March 23rd will mark one year since the UK went into lockdown. It will also mark one year since Cambridge’s Food Poverty Alliance sprang into action to support residents across the city who found themselves on drastically reduced incomes and struggling to feed their families.
Cllr Alex Collis, City Councillor for King’s Hedges, spent 20 weeks between March and August coordinating the cooking and distribution of free community meals, managing a huge volunteer operation based at first Arbury Road Baptist Church and then Cambridge Regional College, both of whom donated their kitchen and storage facilities for free.
It quickly became clear that we wouldn’t be able to run the holiday lunch schemes that the council has supported for the past few years. But that didn’t mean families didn’t still need the support – actually, they needed it more than ever.
As Easter passed, and lockdown continued, the numbers of residents contacting the City Council needing emergency food support continued to rise and it soon became clear that we were in this for the long haul. We were soon sending out hundreds of meals and bags of shopping across all parts of the city each week.
The commitment of our volunteers, the generosity of local hospitality businesses who were struggling to keep their own heads above water, local organisations that donated premises and equipment – it wouldn’t have been possible without them all. People just wanted to help, and it really has shown Cambridge at its best.
A huge thank you to everyone involved in the Food Poverty Alliance, especially Cambridge Sustainable Food who coordinated the whole operation.
In total, volunteers delivered over 10,000 community meals and almost 1500 bags of shopping. In addition, the council supported 8 food hubs across the city (with staff time and funding) in Arbury/Kings Hedges, Coleridge, Cherry Hinton, Romsey, Trumpington, Chesterton, Abbey and Queen Edith’s. The hubs, which do not require referrals, have seen over 30,000 visits in the past twelve months – and are still seeing hundreds of residents pass through their doors each week.
Alex explains what the next steps are;
Luckily, once the CRC term restarted at the end of August, we were able to repurpose Buchan Street Neighbourhood Centre as a central food redistribution hub – something we’d always planned to set up as a council.
Now officers are working with Cambridge Sustainable Food to find it a more permanent home, one that continues to support the local hubs as they develop into places where residents can make sustainable food choices, regardless of their income. This is such a positive step forward for food justice in Cambridge.
Cambridge Sustainable Food’s report on the city’s emergency food provision is available to read online here.