Guest Blog: Food : Choice…the shift to come?

Guest Blog: Food : Choice…the shift to come?

In our latest guest blog, we hear from Jackie Floyd, Councillor for Billinge and Beardwood, Blackburn, to find out more about the local response to Covid-19, in providing food for the most vulnerable.

Living in a pandemic is a global experience. What a wave of emotions we are all in, managing our own curves alongside others with hearts and heads.

Living in Blackburn with Darwen, a unitary authority, the community responded quickly with the collective heart. A myriad of groups large and small from all corners sprang into action. We are a community of providers, with big hearts. We’re also a town that makes toilet rolls! This is handy and gives a certain confidence. It is also symbolic of the shift in what’s seen as important and what’s not.

Living in my home! Oh, how I used to spend so little time here! I have felt the frustration of not seeing folk face to face to talk through ideas and share those moments. Zoom, as good as it is, is nonetheless planned and has a construct.

The key voluntary groups quickly formed a weekly meeting with the council. We were all realising that others were delivering in ‘our patch’. What was ‘our patch’? Who really needed us? Who didn’t? Were we reaching them? Why were we doing this? What’s the change likely to be next month? Next week? Tomorrow?……Next year?

So out came the sketchpad. Food : Choice.

 BwD Blog

Before any journey you need a map. We already have data on food poverty in Blackburn With Darwen. The PCN (Primary Care Neighbourhood) had already started to focus on the need to manage diabetes and obesity, particularly within children. Public Health had secured funds for the childhood obesity challenge. We had foundations to build on.

Our weekly conversations of the VCFS (Voluntary Community Faith Sector) food response meetings have begun to shift from the here-and-now response, driven by heart tugging media photos of empty shelves. We have begun to refocus on what we already knew we did well; rebuilding resilience, strength based conversations, and personal assessment. What many perceived as “unable to access food” really required a rapid shift to understanding the logistics of food distribution. Access to digital resources, a car, a friend who didn’t have to shield; these were the key things to getting your shopping. Then came access to money; those on zero hours contracts, not eligible for furlough, quickly started to come through the referrals. The prediction is that in August this will be a tsunami.

So we’re now on a path of continual review of our collaborative response, to be smarter with our own resources, to be prepared and flexible. Think like Amazon, but act with love of your neighbour.

The social determinants of health have always been the same; access to democracy, education, housing, health support, providing the power to make positive choices about what to eat. Suddenly the conversations about diabetes and obesity were part of the ‘here and now’ of ‘upping’ an individual’s chances of surviving Covid. This brings joy to the ears of public health educators as the tide of listening to the messages has shifted. We must not waste this opportunity.

The economic changes are yet to hit on a large scale, but they are coming! Financial resources being driven down will force swathes of people into the bottom left hand corner of the map above: “eating what’s given”. Those with low or no pay, poor housing, education, environment, not on the electoral register (where hope and resilience are low) will be affected the most.

How to provide hope? Live alongside them, with persistence. Provide good nutritional food in a time of crisis, then continue to support the transition to self determination. Which shelves emptied the fastest? The good food basics for making a homely meal; tins of tomatoes, beans, meat. The ‘rubbish’ calories were left behind. Yay! Folk went with their survival instinct. As parcel providers, many in our emerging collaborative have started to say no to the large volumes of rubbish calories offered: cake, biscuits, snacks; nice extras. The drive to ensure all packs are providing balanced meals has came to the fore. These packs are more than a quick fix for hunger, they represent long term health. We collaborated to purchase and provide ‘good food’; eggs, milk, tinned meat, fresh veg: progressing to vitamin D. It’s a challenge, a work in progress. There is a continual reassessment of parcel contents and the needs of those opening the box, and the need to include some joy. Emerging skill sets of volunteers include: procurement, media, dispatching….who’d have imagined this 12 weeks ago?

#itsalotmorethanfood. Access to money, benefits and new jobs; we can’t leave anything out. How can we develop access to the encompassing skills for individual food resilience? We have a Food Alliance, now is the time to give it ‘teeth’… this space!

You can visit Jackie’s own blog here and follow her on twitter at @jackiefloyd17

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