Barnet Post

Barnet Food Hub

Tackling food inequality and waste

Hero for Barnet Food Hub
Barnet Food Hub volunteers
By Luke Keohane  

Barnet Food Hub is a community-led food distribution centre based in Old East Barnet Library whose pioneering operational process is tackling mass food inequality and waste across the borough.

Initially envisioned as a service to the vulnerable during the Covid-19 pandemic, Barnet Council has recently committed to the continued funding of its operation into 2022. However, the slick logistical process is down to the hub’s volunteers as well as the Project Manager, 28-year-old former Chef, Ollie Scott. Scott, who has led the food hub since November 2020, said: “Food insecurity has never really been on the agenda in Barnet. The borough is seen as a green, leafy suburb with very little poverty. Covid-19 made Barnet realise that there is a lot of food poverty, and we are needed to address this issue.”

The operational process has three key stages. Firstly, the Hub receives bulk food donations from organisations such as The Felix Project, FareShare and local supermarkets. This tends to be surplus food that otherwise would have gone to landfills. It manages an expansive network of volunteers that organises the food into groups and checks its quality. This crucial component of the operation is its biggest strength. By acting as a mediator between suppliers and food banks, they ensure that food banks and community groups are equipped with good-quality products that are safe and fresh to consume. To achieve optimum food use, any food not fit for consumption is provided to local allotments and turned into compost. After this, volunteers deliver the seven tonnes of donated food to nearly 3,000 vulnerable adults and children all over Barnet on a weekly basis. They also donate to organisations including UNITAS, St. Barnabas and Homeless Action in Barnet (HAB) as well as countless food banks.

Like this, the Food Hub helps solve problems at each stage of its operation- challenging the food waste cycle, preventing poor quality food from being donated to the vulnerable and halting the ever-increasing food insecurity crisis in the borough.

Scott believes his operational process is unique in the borough and his new initiative, of developing recipe sheets that are attached to deliveries, adds a new dimension to the operation. Healthy eating habits are important and can be achieved through discussion about food issues with volunteers and community groups.

Scott said: “The hub is becoming a multi-dimensional, holistic, community space where we talk about diet, cooking and how this connects to chronic health conditions”

“That’s what I love about the volunteers. We have a chat about our food experiences so we can all help educate one another.”

Scott is hopeful that this idea can be pushed further and they can start to act as a local educational medium that can raise awareness of food insecurity in the borough.

He continued: “I want to do more work with schools. We have done work with the NCS challenge but I’m very passionate about getting more food education in schools and I believe we are the right people to do that.”

Despite the thriving nature of the organisation, there are many challenges. The borough is increasingly relying on the Hub to provide vulnerable people with food. Since last August, it has distributed 219 tonnes of food which is equivalent to over 521,000 meals. This huge demand has led to pressure on human resources.

“Our biggest challenge is staffing. I’ve grown the project to a level where it requires many hands. Right now, there’s so much food coming in that it can be hard to keep up with the pace of things. In some ways, we are the victims of our own success.”

“A good thing is that we have been in the process of starting a Kickstart position which is aimed at 18–24-year-olds currently on universal credit in order to help them get into work. After that, the whole project will work a lot smoother”.

As well as the creation of a Kickstart position, Scott is hoping that the model of food organisation and delivery can be seen as effective post-Covid-19, influencing the way that other boroughs do this process.

“I truly hope in the future that Barnet, with this Hub and its way of doing things, can serve as an example to all the other London boroughs of what a well-run good food hub can look like.

“There’s so much scope with councils to be savvier with disused spaces such as old libraries which they can utilise in order to start organisations such as this”

For more information or to find your nearest foodbank: youngbarnetfoundation.org.uk/barnetfoodhub

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