Durham Community Action’s Community Good Food Network Session in November 2021 focused on food poverty in the context of the withdrawal of the uplift in Universal credit, the rapidly increasing energy prices and the increases in the general cost of living. 

Participants heard from Mary Readman, Head of Transactional Services at Durham County Council who set out the work that the County have done and are doing to address poverty in the county. The core of the work centres around services to make sure that residents have access to all the benefits that they are entitled to and that they are signposted to help and support when they need it. 

Margaret Nelson, the regional manager for the Trussell Trust talked about Together for Change, the trust’s recent strategy. It also focuses on help and support for people who have been referred to Food Banks to ensure they receive their full entitlement. In addition, they provide tools, systems and training to increase the range of skills of their volunteers with the ultimate aim to make food banks unnecessary. 

Mark Game, CEO of The Bread and Butter Thing (TBBT), a Manchester-based charity, set out their model of community-based food hubs. This membership model is now being used in a number of locations across County Durham. It allows members to access weekly bags of food for a low and set price. All the food is diverted from the food system where, for some reason or other, it was surplus to requirements before it reached the supermarkets. 

In discussion it became clear that both community initiatives accessing food surplus and larger initiatives like TBBT don’t get anywhere near dealing with the food surplus that appears to be inherent in the current system. Collection and redistribution of any surplus is costly and complex which is why a charity that can operate at scale is needed.  

Overall, there was a lot of positivity about the work being done to join up the different elements of this complex picture in County Durham, but also some concern that we don’t seem to be spending much time on trying to avoid people getting into difficulty in the first place.  Several participants suggested that a greater emphasis on development of food and growing skills including better awareness of what is available seasonally and locally could make a contribution to this.