Bristol Food Network volunteer, Isobel Cox, visited the Malcolm X Centre to speak to Michelle Meredith about the Food Hub Consortium Project, which is supporting Black and Asian communities experiencing food insecurity in Bristol.
The Food Hub Consortium Project (FHCP) was established in April 2020 as a response to the need for culturally appropriate food service and delivery, created by the COVID-19 pandemic, within local Black and Asian communities in Bristol. This consortium is funded by the Quartet Community Foundation, with Black South West Network (BSWN) as the grant holder and project managing organisation. The consortium of organisations includes Malcolm X Community Centre where the hub is stationed, Bristol Somali Resource Centre, Bristol Horn Youth Concern, Talo, Bristol Black Carers, Bristol Somali Kitchen and Barton Hill Activity Club, who are working together to feed 400 families and individuals each week across different city areas such as St Pauls, St Jude’s, Easton, and Barton Hill. Supported by the local FareShare team in Bristol, the hub has also received food and other donations such as children’s books and toiletries from generous local residents and businesses.
Food donations are delivered to the Malcolm X Centre and volunteers help to redistribute them between the organisations. Thereafter the organisations each collect the food allocated to them and deal directly with local families registered with them.
Michelle Meredith, the coordinator for the project, explained how the project started: “This project was born out of necessity. Once we went into lockdown it became apparent that there were lots of food banks all around the area but there wasn’t anything specific in St Pauls or for the communities we support. That’s why we came together because most of the organisations involved – their communities live in and around Bristol City Centre, Inner City, St Pauls and Lawrence Hill, areas of deprivation – and these communities are in crisis. It started with one Zoom call and now we’re feeding over 400 people a week but that’s going up all the time with the demand.
“We know that with the furlough scheme – once it starts getting wound down and they start making people redundant – the need for food banks will be even more important. A lot of people are going to find themselves without a job, without an income and with very few job prospects out there. The good news is that the deadline for the food hub was initially July but we’ve managed to secure further funding from Quartet Community Foundation to run to the end of September.”
Michelle said: “Jobs have always been an issue. There’s a lot of people out there, who before the pandemic were probably just managing to get by – especially people on zero hour contracts. As soon as the pandemic started, they were told ‘sorry, you don’t qualify to be furloughed’. So it has highlighted the fact that a lot of people were only just managing and that was going under the radar. This pandemic has shone a glaring light on inequality and its consequences.
“There’s still this stigma about going to the food bank and asking for food. But there shouldn’t be, because if things change, I could be standing where they’re standing – it doesn’t matter who you are.”
The community has really come together to support the project. Michelle thinks that it’s because “all the communities that got involved, they already realised that their communities needed help. But an individual working towards a cause can’t achieve much, no matter how hard they work, they are limited. However, place an individual within a community all working together for the same cause and they can move mountains. All these organisations wanted to set up a food hub but didn’t have the resources themselves. So that’s why they agreed to work together as a consortium with managing support from BSWN.”
Arguably there could have been a lot more support for the communities without austerity policies and recent government cuts. Michelle said: “A lot of the community organisations which might have been around a few years ago have gone, and they’d have been the ones that would have been supporting now. But they’re no longer here because they didn’t have the resources. I think that has to change, as the voluntary and community sector is vital to supporting neighbourhoods and communities across the country”.
Michelle was headhunted to work with the project. At the beginning of lockdown she was volunteering on the phone lines for the National Food Service. But she’d had enough of being sat at home, and wanted to be out working within the community: “My background is in community engagement, I knew I was more than capable of coordinating this project and I feel privileged to put my time and energy into it. The organisations involved know and trust me, and good or bad, what you see is what you get with me. I treat everyone the same, so there have been no conflicts. For me, the fact that everybody is happy is my main concern.”
Michelle was nervous about certain aspects of the role, because they were new to her: ‘There’s been challenges for sure, adapting from shopping for one to shopping for 300 is certainly an experience! But it’s shown me that you have to step out of your comfort zone. I arrived on my first day full of nerves but as soon as the first delivery came in and we wrote out a routine and the organisations were happy I was so relieved. This is what I’m passionate about, knowing I can support these organisations and through them support an amazing community. This is where I’m meant to be.’
Visit Bristol Food Network for more information and resources on Bristol’s good food response to the pandemic.
Meet some of the community food heroes who have been working hard to provide Bristol’s good food response to the coronavirus crisis: Hibo Mahamoud from Talo, Chefs Luke and Kristjan from Heart of BS13 and Pensri Sakornphan from Wat Phra Sri Sanphet feature in our first blog post in a series highlighting some of Bristol’s food heroes.
Also Charlie and Philip James from Stokes Croft Food Project, Rolf Hudson from National Food Service and Maddie Crombie from The Gallimaufry (Bristol Food Union) feature in our second blog in the series.