“During the first lockdown, FOOD Club was a lifesaver as I was unable to go out to the shops”

Amy Goodwin, Community Development Worker at East Bristol Children’s Centre, and Zoe McPhail (pictured left), East Bristol Children’s Centre Family Support Worker write the latest Bristol Bites Back Better blog post. Zoe offers family support at the Speedwell FOOD Club every Friday at Meadowvale Community Centre.

In partnership with Family Action, we run three FOOD Clubs in East Bristol: Broomhill, Oldbury Court and Speedwell. FOOD Clubs are located within Early Years settings, community centres and play venues. They aim to provide food for families with young children under five for a year, with members paying £3.50 for a weekly bag of food including meat, dairy, fruit, vegetables, and store cupboard goods.

The majority of the food comes from Fareshare South West, who rescue surplus food and distribute to charities and community groups. The Clubs at Broomhill, Oldbury Court and Speedwell were set up during the COVID-19 pandemic.

FOOD Club isn’t just about reducing food waste. It’s made a huge difference to families on low incomes, lone parents, those unable to work, refugee families, families impacted by a partner being in prison or those that experienced domestic violence.

The club is important, particularly when the schools were closed. Families that rely on free school meals suddenly had to provide an extra meal for their children. The FOOD Club ensured people at least had a couple of good meals a week.

It has been great for families to access fresh ingredients – families might not normally prioritise (or are unable to afford) fresh fruit and vegetables. We get a lot of Tofurky (a meat substitute) and people were unsure to start with, but they have got more adventurous in trying new foods and most will now gladly take and use a meat substitute.

Outside of lockdown, the Children’s Kitchen have been also been cooking and offering tasters and recipes to build confidence in trying new foods and to increase confidence in cooking fresh ingredients.

FOOD Club has a positive impact on the community and has engaged families who may not have reached out to us to access the support that they may require. They are not only getting food for the family, but they have a gateway to be able to access other services of support that the Children’s Centre or partners can help with. This has been really important when schools have been closed.

I’ve been working at the FOOD Club since the beginning and enjoy seeing the families each week. I’ve been surprised how busy it has been. We’re now full and have a waiting list.

Gemma, a mother of four, started using the FOOD Club during the first lockdown.

“During the first lockdown it was really hard to leave the house with four children in tow, I don’t drive so it’s impossible to do a big shop, collecting a food box locally meant I can get the basics to save trailing the kids to the shops.

My two older girls love getting the random assortment of food each week. They look up what they can make, with the butternut squash and chickpeas they made a delicious curry. It’s given the girls something to do together and all the family get to enjoy the result.

It’s brilliant to hear that we are saving good food from going to waste.”

Jennifer is a single mum with a two-year-old. She has been using the FOOD Club for about a year.

“It helps massively to be able to get varied food at such a low cost. I’m a single mum and unable to start working again until my son starts his place at nursery. I have to be really careful with money. It’s great today that there is cheese and milk – that’s two things I can cross off my shopping list. During the first lockdown, FOOD Club was a life saver as I was unable to go out to the shops.”

By setting the wheels in motion now, together we can transform the future of food in our city, building in resilience over the next decade. So, what change do you want to see happen that will transform food in Bristol by 2030? Do you already have an idea for how Bristol can make this happen? Join the conversation now.

Read Director of The Children’s Kitchen Jo Ingleby’s blog post considering the importance of being able to cook a meal from scratch with simple, fresh, affordable ingredients. The significance of this essential skill has been highlighted during the COVID-19 crisis, as dealing with shortages of certain ingredients is – of course – far less stressful when we know how to easily adapt meals.

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