While the UK adjusts to lockdown measures, we’re all observing the growing impact of Coronavirus on our world. What’s certain is that the repercussions will be profound and longlasting: the UN Secretary recently called it the greatest global challenge since World War Two.
As a public health emergency, Coronavirus is also revealing the fragility of the UK’s food system. Impacts on supply and distribution are being felt far and wide, as we continue to see major retailers struggle to keep shelves stocked and provide sufficient delivery capacity for online orders.
Of course, the crisis will have the greatest impacts on vulnerable people. As supermarkets find ways to improve their distribution, the supply of surplus produce relied on by most foodbanks may be affected. Add the sharp increase in people trying to use foodbanks since Lockdown, it’s clear why food aid organisations are struggling to provide for their communities.
The need for people to self-isolate adds to the complexity, preventing people from leaving their homes to get food to cook, or from having a meal with family, friends or neighbours. Councils and central government are responding by delivering food to people’s doors, but some of those most in need may not be known to these authorities. This is where the compassion and ultra-local knowledge of communities and the voluntary sector step in.
In Tower Hamlets, the response has been incredible. Over the last couple of weeks, we have heard accounts of individuals from voluntary groups, registered housing providers and the council preparing and delivering food to people where it’s needed. There are more than 20 neighbourhood or ward-level Mutual Aid groups in Tower Hamlets. These groups are organising locally to support their area’s vulnerable people.
Whilst protecting the most vulnerable people should remain at the forefront of our minds, the challenges reach further. Food social enterprises, restaurants, smaller retailers and market traders are all at risk from the impacts of Coronavirus. Not only are these vital elements of our local economy, many provide nutritious and affordable food to our communities. They also require support.
As lead organisation of the Tower Hamlets Food Partnership, which comprises over 60 organisations taking collaborative action for a better food environment, we are collating information on food aid, connecting new initiatives and sharing funding opportunities. We’re also providing information to LB Tower Hamlets and the Mayor of London’s food team, so that we can all move towards a coordinated food plan for the borough and London.
Seeing people stepping up to support their communities – in Tower Hamlets and elsewhere – fills us with hope and optimism. At the same time, we know that we’re only at the beginning of this profoundly challenging time.
Here are a few things many of us can do that should have lasting benefits for our communities and our local food economy:
Support your smaller retailers, many of which are now doing deliveries online.
In Tower Hamlets, keep buying fresh produce food from our food markets, so that they can continue to provide fresh, affordable produce.
Grow food! In these times of isolation, a supply – however small – of vegetables or herbs to eat, is incredibly useful. It’s also the perfect time to grow on windowsills, balconies and front or back gardens. The Tower Hamlets Food Growing Network, also led by Wen, has plenty of resources to get you started.
Wishing you safe and well,
Jo Wilson, Tower Hamlets Food Partnership
We’re updating our local food digest regularly – check for updates.
JO WILSON, FOOD PARTNERSHIP COORDINATOR
Jo believes that food is a tool to improve the health of both people and place. A specialist in developing programmes, building networks and influencing policy, she is committed to shaping a greener, healthier and more equitable city.