In a country which counts itself as one of the richest in the world, one in five households with children have struggled to put enough food on the table within the last six months.
Food banks are struggling to keep up with the demand and have to combat the associated stigma that so many people feel when using them. But let’s not despair and, instead, give a great big shout out in praise of UKHarvest and its many food hubs.
Nourishment for body and spirit
UK Harvest, founded in 2017 and based near Chichester aims to reduce food waste and to address food insecurity by collecting surplus or perishable food from sources including farms, supermarkets, exhibitions, festivals and even cruise ships. This food is then redistributed to charities in West Sussex to help feed vulnerable people.
However, UK Harvest is not merely a food distributor; as revealed by my recent visit to their Donnington base, it’s an expansive network of community food hubs, linking with hundreds of charities, organising educational and community events and fostering volunteering initiatives.
On our arrival, Andrew, their Business Development Manager, welcomed us with a delicious bowl of spicy butternut soup and artisan garlic bread. He definitely had a good grasp of our priorities!
The kitchen was bustling with volunteers filling pots for sending out to hubs or food banks, while other members of staff stopped by for a bowl of the soup and a catch up. Sian, a professional cook herself, inspired us with her account of all that goes on in this inviting space.
Volunteers come from every part of the locality and for many it is a solution for loneliness, a chance to find companionship and purpose and learn new skills, especially for the elderly or disabled. Children from local schools are welcomed and given opportunities to learn about cooking. But, with seven vans operating out of the Donnington HQ, this is a charity literally on the move.
Serving West Sussex
Andrew advised that they have 16 community food hubs in West Sussex, complementing the foodbanks to which they also donate.
At the Selsey Hub, located in the aptly named Beacon Church, the UKHarvest van arrives weekly with fresh fruit, vegetables, bread and groceries, but also an exciting range of donated one-off goodies. Visitors pay £5 to fill their bag with groceries that would normally cost over £25, and the volunteers offer cooking advice.
The church was crowded and it felt like a food festival, with people enjoying a cup of coffee and chatting to each other as they waited to join the queue. Best of all, recipients feel part of the community, helping to combat waste, and so giving back as well as receiving.
UKHarvest also organises school visits to teach about preventing food waste and encouraging them to hold food-related events. A new initiative is Family Fun Day on 16 December in Crawley – offering seasonal fun with activities from fencing to puppet making (with special incentives for those on free school meals), cooking demonstrations and lots of goodies to taste. Free membership of holiday clubs will be on offer. Audio Active, another brilliant Sussex charity, will be there providing live music.
The Nourish Hub
But for this charity on the move, there is also an outpost in the capital – the Nourish Hub, a cool community café which receives twice weekly deliveries from UKHarvest. Bright and welcoming, with fresh herbs grown hydroponically in towers, provided by Square Mile Farms at cost price, the café opens at 12 midday for lunch from Monday to Friday.
There is a recommended charge for those who can afford to pay, but no-one is turned away for lack of funds and everyone is treated with the same sensitivity and courtesy. Oli, one-time volunteer and now the full-time chef, plans delicious vegetarian meals, based on what produce is available. Lunch was amazing, with the roasted cauliflower out of this world. Banana bread and coffee to follow and, although I donated, I felt I was also a warrior in the battle against waste.
Teams of volunteers are there daily, in different areas of the hub, coordinated by Andreea, the staff member in charge of the volunteer programme. They have a passion for the environment, food and the local community and, just as in Chichester, this works both ways: some may improve their language skills, others might find friendship or gain new skills, have access to training opportunities or gain work experience. The relationships they make has enabled volunteers to secure employment or access other opportunities.
Talking to Andreea and Oli, I was told about the ‘Surplus suppers’ or ‘Community Suppers’, and ‘Brekky Club’ offered regularly on the same basis as lunch and clearly helpful in combating loneliness as well as hunger. Complementing the offering there is a community kitchen, fabulously equipped to teach healthy eating and cooking skills. They also deliver Meals on Wheels, a paid for service run by Jason, Delivery Manager and Tripti, the chef. This provides cooked food and a welfare check to elderly and vulnerable residents in the borough, using e-cargo bikes.
Community at its best
The ideals underpinning UK Harvest and the Nourish Hub, the dedication of the staff and volunteers, the kindness and respect shown to everyone, make these organisations a shining example of community at its best. They offer hope, nourishment and a sense of togetherness, truly deserving our shout of praise.