The Scottish Government has committed to making Scotland “a country where everyone has access to healthy, nutritious food without needing emergency food aid”. In 2015 Scottish Ministers established an Independent Short-life Working Group on Food Poverty. The group reported in 2016 that emergency food aid is not a long-term solution to food insecurity, defined as a person’s inability to: “secure enough food of sufficient quality and quantity…[to allow them to] stay healthy and participate in society”. Their recommendation was that new ways to deliver food and support through more long-term, holistic, community based solutions ought to be explored. The group made clear that tackling food insecurity should be done in ways that enhance dignity and embody respect. As a result of this, the group suggested four service design principles that embody these values:
- involving people with direct experience of food insecurity
- recognising the social value of food
- providing opportunities for people to contribute
- providing participants with the power to choose
In response to the group’s findings the Scottish Government set up the Fair Food Transformation Fund (FFTF). The purpose of the fund is to “support projects that give a more dignified response to food poverty and help to move away from emergency food aid as the first response.” The fund invests in projects that balance current demands for emergency food aid with community led, long-term solutions to food insecurity.
Between 2016 and 2018, two types of organisation received funding: (1) ‘food justice’ projects – community organisations who have historically embraced the social value of food; (2) ‘transition’ projects – food banks who wished to modify their current approach to emphasise the dignity of the service users.
Review aims and methodology
In May 2017, Rocket Science was commissioned by the Scottish Government to complete a review of the FFTF. The review sought to answer three questions:
- How are the supported projects impacting on individuals, households and communities associated with the project?
- What data is required to assess the impact of, and what are the critical success factors of, community led food insecurity projects in reducing demand on food banks?
- How could the design and implementation of the FFTF evolve to meet its overall aim of supporting emergency food providers to transition from traditional charitable approaches to support in more social community settings?
During the review, Rocket Science analysed available data on all FFTF projects and conducted field research with 19 case study projects.
It was found that most case study projects were successfully integrating emergency food provision into a wider range of community based activities in order to move from charity to food justice models.
Progress against the Dignity Principles
Rocket Science assessed the extent to which the 19 case study projects had made progress in achieving the dignity principles. In summary, projects were:
- Involving people with lived experience of food poverty in the design of services. Examples of this involvement included: participants becoming volunteers, and participation in committees and the running of peer sessions.
- Recognising the social value of food by focusing on social interaction and strengthening community ties. Most projects used community meals as part of their service offer. This succeeded in re-framing their services as social rather than charitable.
- Providing opportunities for people to contribute. Projects encouraged an environment in which participants felt they were both contributing to and receiving from the broader community. An emphasis on peer learning across several projects was particularly successful in contributing to this.
- Providing participants with the power to choose. Most projects tended to provide choice to participants by offering flexibility in the way they were able to engage with different components of the project. Despite this, several projects struggled to provide choice in the food provided.
Most of the case study projects had embraced the social value of food effectively – using their services to reduce food insecurity and build community bonds. The most prevalent challenge was providing food choices for participants. This resulted from a continued reliance on donated food and constrained budgets for provisions.
Addressing the underlying causes of food insecurity
Social stigma is a major factor contributing to those who face food insecurity not accessing relevant food aid services. In using non-traditional models, projects were able to report a difference in how users viewed their services and how they viewed more traditional food banks. This helped to remove the stigma associated with service use and, in turn, increase the number of people using the services.
The review findings suggest that projects can also play a role in reducing the need for emergency food provision by: helping participants in their food budgeting, facilitating support to increase income (e.g. benefits advice) and increasing awareness of other available services.
Food insecurity is commonly born out of economic circumstance. Several of the projects were able to move participants closer to work. This was achieved in two ways: increasing participants’ confidence and range of skills, or using good relationships with participants to facilitate smooth referrals to other organisations. The projects were able to indirectly reduce food insecurity by changing the economic circumstance of participants through increasing their employability.
Relatedly, projects helped reduce social isolation for many participants. The result of this was twofold: it increased participant retention within the project and it created a layer of peer support. Both play a role in projects’ ability to reduce food insecurity.
What works to engage people with services
The review found evidence that FFTF projects were effective at attracting and retaining participants. This included groups that often engage less frequently with support services such as: refugees, young people, ex-offenders and gypsy/travellers. The lessons learned by projects on how to engage participants are not only relevant for food insecurity but across a range of services including: health, care, employability and housing. The five project features that sustained and increased engagement were:
- Finding “hooks” into the project – these were ways that helped people find out about the project, such as community events and fun days.
- Allowing people to “test the waters” – with multiple activities happening at once, participants could pick and choose what they got involved with, often observing activities for several weeks before joining in themselves.
- Blurring the line between the “helpers” and the “helped” – this moved projects from a more traditional charity model to services that were both community focused and community led.
- Providing flexible support – projects avoided formal classes and courses. Instead many projects relied on semi-structured peer-to-peer learning. Staff made sure that activities appeared informal while instilling the lessons of a structured session.
- Providing “space” for participants – projects were accepting and made sure individuals did not feel pressure to take part or attend. Participants appreciated the ability to just to be there.
Creating sustainable services
A challenge faced by all projects is creating and maintaining a sustainable service. While these projects are likely to require ongoing funding in the future, they have taken steps to reduce their dependency on funders. In creating a sense of community, participants were reinvesting their time and resources into the project as volunteers. Projects were better able to recruit volunteers if people in the community saw the project as being a local community cause as opposed to a charitable one. Some better established projects were identifying income generating opportunities through asset use and social enterprise. This was not common across all projects.
Data collection and Governance
Data collection was a challenge for the projects. This was driven by two factors: a lack of time and a concern that data collection might emphasise the charitable nature of the projects among participants. While most projects tended to record attendance numbers and services they delivered, few collected outcome data for participants. Most projects used staff observation to monitor outcomes but some used more formal methods, such as project staff group reflection sessions or the use of staff log books.
Based on the review findings we recommend that the Scottish Government:
- Promote the success of the FFTF projects to show others what more dignified services look like in practice and how to make a shift in service design and delivery. Projects’ engagement with this promotion should be carefully managed considering ongoing resource pressures and increasing demand for their services.
- Set an expectation for data to be provided on attendance and outcomes achieved but ask projects to develop a methodology that combines direct collection of data and staff observations. These could be assessed against an outcomes framework to ensure data collection is appropriate in each context and that staff observations are targeted and guided.
- While none of the case study projects appeared to be at risk of financial or governance failure, a number expressed a need for further support with improving their governance arrangements.
- Allow for a longer lead in time for new services to get up and running. For example, several projects in the January 2017 round were trying to make large shifts in their services and were not fully up and running when they were approached in the summer of 2017. Larger scale shifts to services are likely to require a much longer lead in time than was originally provided for in the FFTF.
- Seek to extend the approach taken by projects to engage participants into other service areas such as housing, employability, health and social care. Food insecurity projects can provide valuable conduits for participants into services that address the underlying drivers of poverty. There is some good evidence of projects doing this already and effective practice could be exchanged.
Rocket Science UK Ltd
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Email: Catriona Rooke