It will soon be March wont it? A year.
Just a few short weeks until it’s a year ago this all started. The upheaval, the frustrations, and the public desperate need for some kind of normality to return. Its nearly a year and still we have no real end to this situation.
Its just about a year ago, when we closed our doors on our community shop with the dread of what lay ahead. We made the decision a week before the first national lockdown was enforced and after we spoke to our main funders, The National Lottery, to gain guidance and to be in a good position to adapt to community needs. Lottery main message to us was that they believed that we were best placed to support our community with their needs and we spent the first few weeks of the pandemic just listening to the community while adapting to the support they needed most.
As most who know us, know that the main route we took was food and through pestering and knocking on the right doors we managed to get some to open and get the support we needed here. Cornwall might be sold as an idyllic place to live, work and play but in reality, it's at the end of the earth, the final frontier and transport to get anything to Cornwall or moved around in Cornwall is a challenge and especially when you are skint as we were most of last year.
In April, through a friend i was lucky enough to buy a transit van for £750 quid of my own money as so I could bring food that had been donated to us in Bristol from FareShare South West, down to Cornwall as so we could fill the gap that was needed. Little did I know at that time it would become weekly, sometimes 2 or 3 times a week and that it would turn into us having our own hub in Cornwall receiving around 15 tons per week to share out amongst 20 + other community groups. Our fuel bill for the last year will reach almost 20k and the transit has long died but for us, we seem to go from strength to strength.
Pre Covid we were heavily involved in Textiles, in Circular Economy and creating opportunities from textiles that brought in some way more sustainable communities. We, with our team at the time, created jobs, events, youth training and experiences and I would like to think we were quite good at what we were doing. We were recognised for our work that could be seen in us winning awards, invites to share our knowledge with other top Uk orgs and we had just secured backing from Exeter and Falmouth University to collaborate on a film that would highlight the brilliance of Circular Economy in action in Cornwall. A film not about us but our idea was to showcase the fantastic businesses here in Cornwall leading the way with waste. We were doing ok, well not just ok, we were doing great!
And then Covid came and what a year it's been.
I can remember being so freaked out one night back then. Social Media videos showing people dropping down dead in the streets, Bodies in Italy being left on gurneys in the street ready for collection once the backlog had caught up, news of ice rinks being taken over for temporary morgues. It was hard not to be scared and it was hard not to just shut the doors from the world and what the unknown was to bring.
I have friends who I would class as very level headed who simply crumbled and I have friends who are normally shy and reserved who stepped forward and stole the show. I wobbled, I wanted to run away at times but as the messages started to come through to us, looking for support, for advice and for a whole host of things we knew we couldn’t. It's not in our nature and because we found that by being active it not only helped others, it's also meant we helped ourselves. The strength of our team that formed, many new to us but simply wouldn’t go away unless we let them help us, meant that we could and did move mountains. Without them and their support this would have never have been able to happen. Some are still with us; some have moved on and each one we hold with so much gratitude and high regard for the help they gave in the community hour of need. We would really like to thank them properly one day and I'm really unsure how that can be done but if ever we get chance, I'm sure we will.
So here we are, a year on. I'm not going to bore you with tonnage of food moved, the number of meals this could create. You have read the previous blogs and you know what we managed to do but what I am here to do is to not only look back but to look at what's happening next. We actually don’t know the full story but we feel that as we continue to support you, we need you to understand where we are now, where we want to be and what we are doing to get there. Some things are not in our control, in fact, most things are not in our control but we can adjust our sails to ride the storm with you.
In the next few months, late March, the winter food program finishes. Many of you may not know what this is but it is the food that has been provided by FareShare SW to us in Cornwall. This ends. This has been enabled by Defra / Government funding the producers to support charities during the pandemic. This was always planned to end and we have been working towards what's next. We know that the situation for many will not change and for many it may get harder. What we have been trying to put in place is securing long term support for Bodmin and the whole of Cornwall. We have secured a further 120 tons of food until March buts it's what happens next. If the Government doesn’t keep this up, if funding for these projects is no longer in place by DEFRA then things will change a lot. We will change a lot and service will no longer be as normal.
We are working towards the creation of a food hub in Bodmin to enable long term support right across Cornwall. We are actively engaging in partnerships and bringing in new members to act as food banks/ community cafes and a whole host of set ups that will continue to support the communities here. We think we are just weeks away from this becoming a reality and from that we should be able to create long term sustainable ways to help tackle food poverty in Cornwall. This will be in Partnership and working with organisations that will be involved with supply and support.
For Bodmin, this means that the food parcels that we have been sending out each week for free for anyone who is in need may change. We have never had the money to but this food and going from roughly a ton each week to a quarter of that, it will bring change. Is this a bad thing? Yes, maybe for some it is and we know its been a lifeline for many. Are we walking away? No. We have the ability to help and so we will as we always have during this pandemic.
What we are thinking is to set up a sort of `Meals on Wheels` service. People and families who need support can get access to meals that are precooked each week and adjusted to what is supplied to us seasonally. We can still get access to food but as its reduced amounts then it would go further. Where and when this will take place, we are unsure but it is along those lines we are thinking. As of yet we simply have no funding for this to happen. We have secured the food; we have people who can help but we are now in the process of trying to secure funding that will help us continue to support some 230 + people in Bodmin every week. We hope that by sometime in April this may be able to start. There will be a gap between the end of March and when this next phase of support starts. Once this starts, we see this as long term and for us that is what is needed at the moment. The uncertainty of the last year was the hardest part of what we faced and this will bring with it the ability to plan ahead, to serve you best and to help where help is most needed. Increase production during school holidays? No problem. Cater for those who may be shielding? Yep and we can deliver.
To be honest, this last year has been very testing. Im still angry at some but most of all we are tired. It’s a constant battle for us to try to make everything work. When we get complains, and we do, very few but the cut deep, we take it personally. People often forget that we are trying our best, we are human and we also have families that we have giving up our time with as so we can support them. We don’t get paid for this. We understand though. We know that many are just as frightened for the future as us.
Support for us has been very thin at times and often we have thought that’s it, we will have to close. For each one of these times there are others that simply shine and have really made a difference to Cornwall over this last year, like the day that Re:Act, a national org made up of ex-service people (some still serve) came forward to offer their help and who gladly give up their time each week to help us unload the lorry and make this hub a reality. Our volunteers are simply the best and as said before, without them this wouldn’t happen. Volunteers have offered their time weekly and sadly for most we have had to say no. Not because we don’t want you, We Do! But we simply can't. Covid has meant we have to put strict measures in place and we have created our own department bubbles. For us to have to stop due to Covid would disrupt the supply throughout Cornwall. The 6500 people who rely on this each week would not get the support they need and for that reason it's not quite the time to bring in new volunteers just yet. Next month maybe but not quite yet sorry.
We hope now you have a little better understanding of just where we are at, what we are now facing and what we are trying to do. If you message us and we don’t answer straight away, we are sorry. It's not easy but we will get there. This winter is tough on everyone and even more so our youth. We feel and we hope the bounce back from puts many of them in the front to get any help they need be it in education, training, work opportunities or just life experiences that we all took for granted when we were teens.
Almost all of our funding ends in March and when I mention there will be change, this is what I mean. It affects us all and this includes all our staff, our projects we have built over the years and the services we have been offering to the community. We are working on ways of continuation and we are desperately trying to make this happen as so we don’t disrupt what we are doing. Both Harry and I will be working when some things will have to close from April but much of this is voluntary.
Food is not our only project we have been running over the last year and we will continue to try to find ways so that those things may be able to keep going and maybe new projects to start up. Part of the problem has been that we have been so busy keeping the foodbanks going that we haven't had time to spent on funding and even when we did there wasn't the options open to us. We put others before us when we maybe should have done different even though we spent our Christmas break deep in funding applications. Anyhow, that is what is what, we can't change the past but we can help build better futures. We try, we learn and we keep going till we get there.
John and Harry – Cultivate Cornwall
100 tonnes of food was no mean feat, and while we feel proud of what we have achieved, it brings with it, mixed emotions, demand remains above supply, we cannot simply get enough food out for all the projects in need. While we are working to address this, it is a sobering thought as to just how normal food poverty has begun.
While we are new to distributing food at any real scale, it is only on the last few months that we have been able to put the capacity and supply in place to really start to address need. From a temporary food hub we are now distributing around 15 tonnes of ambient and fresh food each.
The food is shared out each week between roughly 20 community projects who give it to people in need in their communities. While we also deliver food parcels across Bodmin. In the recent both in Bodmin and at the community projects we support we have seen an increase in demand for the services we provide, between us each week we can food more than 1% of the Cornish population. In recent weeks more than 6,000 people are fed between us, while this has remained consistently above 5,500 since before Christmas.
We forecast this to continue increasing, this week alone we have seen a 30% increase in demand for food parcels in Bodmin. Our team at Cultivate Cornwall are working hard to ensure we have enough food to support those families most in need across Cornwall’s communities. This has become even more vital now we have entered the latest lockdown and start to feel the longer term impact of the pandemic.
Since March 2020 we have worked tirelessly to support Bodmin community members facing food poverty and have grown out of our small high street shop in market arcade on fore street, Bodmin. Although we still have the shop which is used to make up food parcels delivered 3 times per week, we also have a larger warehouse which is where our large deliveries are processed. With the larger capacity that we can operate at it brought opportunities to support more food banks and community support groups across Cornwall.
We have since partnered with FareShare South West and support at least 18 other community groups and food banks where we deliver directly to them bulk food from our unit every week, some do collect themselves, but most is delivered. This is a huge challenge each week to process this volume of food within a short turnaround, however we have a fantastic team of staff and volunteers that make it happen week after week, including over the Christmas and New Years holiday. We are grateful for the level of support from FareShare southwest, Penmellyn Vets for the use of one of their units and to all of the other organisations that work with us.
As 2021 begins, the news has been rather bleak, While there is hope, one of the less reported effects of COVID-19 is the additional thousands of families across the UK facing severe food poverty and relying on local food banks. Most of us have heard of Marcus Rashford, and you con not argue with the publicity he has brought to food poverty. While this does highlight the UK has a food poverty problem, it lacks perspective, and often we don’t realise just how much food poverty impacts your neighbours, friends, and colleagues, which remains a hidden struggle for many.
Our blog is designed to keep you up to date on Cultivate Cornwall news and all the different projects we are working on.