How to build a sustainable food enterprise and battle food poverty with The Larder transcript

Helen Beddow: Food is an integral part of all of our lives. But how much do we really know about how our food get onto our plate?

There are big challenges to address about the sustainability of our food systems, without change we’ll continue to see more negative effects on poverty, health, the environment and our economy.

Sustainable food advocate Kay Johnson believes that we can achieve a fairer food system by thinking globally, acting locally. We got the chance to speak with Kay and her team about her pioneering work with The Larder, the organisation that Kay founded in Preston. With The Larder, Kay hopes to tackle food poverty, promote healthier eating, support local farmers and producers, and reduce food waste.

Hi Kay, welcome to the podcast. I’ve been really looking forward to meeting you and talking about the work you’ve been doing in Preston, so tell me a little bit about The Larder.

Kay Johnson: So, The Larder stands for Lancashire and Region Dietary Education Resource. 

HB: Good acronym!

KJ: Yeah, do you like it?

HB: Yeah I do.

KJ: Well what we’re trying to do is create a demand for better food, and we want people to think about where their food is coming from, and we want people to be able to kind of influence and shape the food system towards one that’s fairer by questioning where their food is coming from. We want people to be able to make informed choices based on the facts about their food and how it’s got onto their plate and educating people about the fact that cheap food doesn’t actually exist. There’s always somebody paying for that somewhere along the line.

HB: And how did you set The Larder up? Where did the idea come from?

KJ: So I set it up in 2015, I’m just going to go back in time a little bit. So, I lived in Scotland a long time and then I came back to Lancashire 9 years ago, and I had an idea that I wanted to do something which brought together all the different aspects of my life: so I was brought up on a farm, I then became a chef, and then I became a nutritionist managing food poverty initiatives. And at that time there was a sustainable food movement and I was starting to talk to other people who were thinking the same. I brought together a group of people from across Lancashire, people who were experts in food and health, and we set up Sustainable Food Lancashire and unfortunately Public Health, who had been heavily involved, the funding that they had available was then no longer available so what I had to do was decide did I want to continue, or just drop the whole thing. So I decided to continue in one place, so I focused on Preston so I set up The Larder so I could implement The Charter.

HB: What kind of initiatives and activities does The Larder do in Preston?

KJ: We’ve got the café and catering business, and the café’s about experience so we want people to experience what good food is and what it’s about, what it looks like, what it tastes like. And then we have the academy so the academy’s about education, courses, and workshops for people to learn about different aspects of food. We’ve got lots of different courses available: short courses, we’ve got accredited qualifications and bespoke cooking classes. And then the third element is around procurement, so we want to make sure that other organisations that have an interest in supplying local food are able to do that. With the café I have, can’t remember now I think it’s 27 different suppliers, and normally if you’re a caterer you have one supplier and you tick some boxes and then everything comes on one day, but with us we have lots different suppliers, and farmers, and producers, different things coming in every day. You know, the milk arriving we’ll have a chat with the guy delivering that and customers get to see that so it’s all kind of part of that experience to encourage people to be interested in where the food’s coming from. We also have in the café, as soon as people come in there’s murals on the wall, there’s information about the food and where it comes from.


HB: Kay really gets across that sense of community that this type of procurement model brings. I wanted to talk to one of The Larder’s suppliers to find out how they experience working with this type of local enterprise and get their perspective on a fairer food system.

Clare Wignall: I’m Clare Wignall, I’m the Production Manager for Wignalls Yallo, and we produce cold-pressed British rapeseed oil.

HB: So what’s it like going into The Larder as a supplier?

We’ve been made to feel very welcome, almost like part of the team, we always go on the Facebook page and have a look, see what everybody’s up to. We’ve donated oil for events that they’ve had and then we love to see what they’ve done with the oil, seeing what they’ve used your product for and they’ve fed so many hundred people and it’s like ‘Wow, that is amazing’, these people do this for the community and we were part of it.

HB: So what’re the benefits of having a customer like The Larder?

CW: Well we work hard to grow sustainably, we like reducing waste and reducing food miles. It’s local to us which is important to us, we try to keep our carbon footprint down as much as possible. They’re a small team, like ourselves here on the farm. Everything that they do for the community, that’s important to us. The more people in the community that understand about their food and where it comes from and obviously how it’s produced, and how to use it is very positive. They promote healthy eating, teach people how to cook healthy, nutritious meals on a budget.


HB: I wanted to understand more about Kay’s procurement model, and how using local suppliers supports areas like Preston. In 2013, after the failure of an economic development plan to attract investment to Preston, the council took a different approach and decided to focus on a community wealth building strategy. We tracked down Councillor Matthew Brown, a local politician, to find out more about how community-led organisations like The Larder help support the council's community wealth building strategies in Preston.

Matthew Brown: My name is Councillor Matthew Brown, I’m leader of Preston City Council. I've been in the job for just over two years and The Larder has been a very essential part of what we're trying to achieve, especially around our community wealth building agenda.

HB: So how have you bought this approach to Preston, what does community wealth building in Preston look like in practice.

MB: It’s a very academic term that, isn’t it? It basically means we want to make sure that there's more wealth shared around with people and businesses here, so the ownership is in the hands of the people whether that's through insourcing services back into the council, whether it's through encouraging worker ownership or credit unions, whether it's through establishing new forms of activity like a regional cooperative bank or even doing things like when we’re building, thinking if you can build developments ourselves in the city centre saying we want the assets to be in the ownership of the city so its owned by the council so it’s actually in the ownership of the community. So it’s trying to bring about that transformation, being part of a movement that’s an international movement because there’s probably about 50 or 60 different areas that are pursuing community wealth building now. So, the Scottish government have got a community wealth building strategy, the Welsh Assembly have. It’s all trying to realise that what we've had, possibly for last 40 years, and the culture we’ve had in how we pursue economic development, it's not benefiting most people, so we need to create alternatives to that. Basically make sure that things are a bit more fair, so more people have opportunities, wages are higher, more wealth going to local companies, more people own their own companies, more people bank with banking agents which they actually own themselves because we’ve got plans for a regional cooperative bank, so it's exciting. So that’s what it is in a nutshell.

HB: And what are some of the social and economic challenges within Preston that you're looking to tackle with the Preston model?

MB: We’ve obviously got health inequalities that are very significant: more people in poverty, working poverty, more children in poverty. We came to the conclusion some time ago that we can’t just be playing around with the system that doesn’t benefit most people, we want to try and challenge it and create something that’s an alternative to it locally and regionally. Big business didn’t want to come in, because we tried to attract it for over 10 years into the city centre with quite a big scheme, it'd be worth over a billion pounds in today’s money, and then government’s cutting back so you’re left with no alternative but to try and make the most of what you have already.

HB: The principle behind community wealth building is to keep local wealth within Preston. As part of the project, you identified that of 70 million spent by local institutions, only 5% of that money was spent within Preston’s organisations, and in total 458 million was leaking out of the Lancashire economy. How does the procurement model employed by organisations like The Larder keep local wealth within Preston?

MB: It is sometimes hard to explain ideas around procurement and around supporting the Real Living Wage, the fact we were left with no choice but to do things differently that meant that all our big institutions, who have a spend close to a billion pounds each year on goods and services, they've managed to repatriate a lot of public sector contracts back to local companies. So often that’s in construction, where you have a medium-sized family owned business that wins a contract rather than a corporation, and when that does happen you then have a community of sub-contractors, often electricians, plumbers, people who do the ground work, they’re often small businesses who are actually well-catered in the community. That has protected us, I think, during austerity quite well, it really has supported us over the last few years.

HB:: Key to the Preston model is building relationships with what the model terms ‘anchor institutions’ or institutions that tend to be large-scale employers with a history and a mission within the area, so the NHS, universities, large local businesses. How do these institutions contribute to local wealth building?

MB: This can only be successful if we have a number of players. I mean, ourselves, the county and the police and crimes commission, but especially the NHS. We’re going to be approaching them and we have done actually, at looking at where they can recruit and can they recruit from the areas of highest unemployment and deprivation, can they look at recruiting people who might be of the BAME community, because obviously the Black Lives Matter movement has been raising that awareness about the structural outcomes that disadvantage minorities, and also can they look to employ people who might be affected by the pandemic. I mean our university’s building a fantastic new student sentre, 35 million pounds, and they’re targeting the people who are going to run the café, so local catering and hospitality firms in the SME sector, so just the fact we've got that culture now will make us more resilient. One of the reasons people are unwell are because they’re in poverty, so if the NHS for example will shift more of its spend to organisations like The Larder, and jobs are created, then that has a health benefit as well, a public health benefit.

HB: There is a huge Hospital in Preston.

MB: It is, it's a very big, the majority goes on the procurement journey so obviously I do know they use local companies around construction and other things but I think there's lots of other opportunities. A lot of the spend is centralised so you can’t influence it, but there will still be quite a few million which we can actually use to purchase from local organisations. If our institutions spend a little bit more with organisations like employees or businesses that are going to disappear, they’re always going to be rooted in the community. Part of community wealth building, the next part of it, what we’re considering, is looking at how we can work with our public institutions and look at things like actually producing energy for the community, rather than it being sourced from the Big 6 energy companies. Within the university is going to be a cooperative college, it’s going to look at an education centre to educate people about cooperative businesses, similar to The Larder, this is now the time to do it, so it's trying to get that culture there. If you've got the culture around paying a Real Living Wage, if you’ve got a culture around buying more from local businesses and SMEs, if you've got a culture around supporting the cooperative economy or insourcing activity back into the institutions themselves, you can then build other things.

HB: And what role does The Larder play in the Preston model?

MB: It is a social enterprise but it's also a worker cooperative, and it became a cooperative because it wanted to support the Preston model. They’re pretty amazing what they do in education, classes to do for kids in our community gateway, they’re being amazing delivering hot food to communities, I know they’re looking at a procurement enterprise, and they're a big part of it really. My hope is that The Larder and other organisations which are cooperatives or social enterprises, they can get to the stage where they’re winning lots more public contracts.

HB: What kind of impacts and outcomes have you seen so far in Preston from taking this approach?

MB: The employment rates is the best in Preston, it has been for 15 years, as is the levels of economic activity, people receiving the Real Living Wage, that’s up there as well. The numbers of affordable houses, because we've got a policy for some time where we say to developers at least 30% must be affordable, we’ve been the best council out of 40 in Lancashire for new affordable housing units. So we want to go beyond that and really try to get into the real issues of poverty and child poverty, get more people into decent jobs and living wage jobs, and you can get more employment into the deprived areas, and potentially our institutions have big opportunity to look at that. If you look at things like property businesses, there's no extraction to shareholders, what you have is the wealth goes to the people who work within it so you tend to have much better employment, more secure employments, higher wage levels, The Larder’s a living wage employer and all that, for example. So one example is in a really kind of acute area of the Basque region of Spain called Mondragón, which is a fantastic town and region, they’ve established 120 businesses which are all in worker ownership, worker-owned cooperatives owned by the people who work within them. And they have the bank there, you have a university, they’ve got their own welfare system which enhances what the state has, even things like the local supermarkets are owned by the workforce, some of the outcomes you have there are things like wage levels being 20% or 25% higher than people who work in non-cooperative businesses, you see life expectancy rates that are two or three years higher, you see less violence in the community, less stress. So those are some outcomes that you can achieve, if you actually go down this route. Well none of this is easy. So, this goes back to the Preston model and we’ve got funding now for 10 worker-owned businesses. So there's three on the way, we'll have to have 10 by the next two years, one of which will be an education centre, and again because we're trying to establish our own regional cooperative bank, we see branch closures on the high streets, you see local businesses you can’t access finance who need to. Again, you can get an awareness there that let’s shift our money to an ethical, locally-owned cooperative bank which the customers own. So you put that all together, it’s very exciting and Mondragón, who are part of the project we have at the moment around expanding the cooperative economy, they're coming over to Preston to actually help us incubate these businesses.


HB: The Preston model was developed in collaboration with CLES, a national organisation for local economies, and they support regional areas in developing community wealth building programmes. Collaboration is at the heart of their principles around wealth building, and it got me wondering about the role of research in these projects, and the role researchers can play in collaborating with these communities. I wanted to understand from Kay what community organisations felt research could bring to them.

KJ: Well we've not been very good at measuring impact, it's been difficult to find the time to do that because we're always so busy doing it. So most of our evidence of impact is anecdotal, so it'd be really good to sort of look at why what is working is working, and how we could scale that up. A lot of organisations who are doing similar work to us across the country would find that useful. It would be great to see researchers and grassroots organisations, working more closely together and collaborating on research that is going to change the way that we do things. I think, quite often, we get asked questions, and it's already established what the research is going to be about, and I think if we could have a say in what is actually being measured by actually co-designing the research from the very beginning. There's lots of great work that's going on. I think we really need to get down to the kind of nitty gritty of how things work in practice, and that will be really useful. I think certainly, certainly for us it’s how we can do what we're doing, bigger and better.


HB: This raises important questions about how researchers work with community organisations. To understand how research fits in, we spoke to one of the researchers working with The Larder about their collaboration.

Katerina Psarikidou: My name is Katerina Psarikidou. I am a lecturer in sustainable development at the Science Policy Research Unit at the University of Sussex. I am a social scientist, particularly interested in the politics of sustainable development. I have also been particularly interested in working closely with non-academic stakeholders, with a view to include their voices and their needs, in research, innovation, and decision making processes.

HB: Why are research projects that involve community organisations in their design so important?

KP: To actually contribute to improving the quality of life, the experiences of local communities, this can only happen if you actually work closely with community organisations, learn from them, making your research useful for the communities. We basically assume that we know what the challenge is, but actually speaking with these organisations and trying to embed what they're interested in in your research is really important. I’m hoping that our research, anyone’s research that is developed in collaboration with non-academic partners is more impactful, it actually contributes to the production of knowledge that is useful for the communities that - I know that community organisations are very interested in some evidence to shed light on specific gaps of knowledge that are needed to generate evidence for the organisations to prove that they are important.

HB: And how have you worked with the Larder?

KP: The Larder is a community organisation that is working for the community and for the benefit of the community, they are part of the community. I have been working alongside The Larder for about eight, nine years now developing together non-academic outputs that can be used by the organisation or other community organisations that might be interested in the work that The Larder is doing. So, for example, as part of the Local Food Hub project, we developed best practice documents, some guidelines that other organisations can use if they're interested in following the model or learning from the experiences of The Larder. For about a couple of years we have been working with The Larder on a project called Local Food Hubs specifically looking into the potential of local food hubs in addressing issues of food inequalities in deprived areas of Preston. We were particularly interested in piloting a specific project, working alongside community centres creating food hubs in their premises to help overcome issues of food access, enabling them to access local food. That can actually be an alternative to the conventional ways of possibly addressing food poverty. Of course, this is quite challenging, but we have also opened up new ways of thinking and new practices that enable the local communities to access local food, to engage in a broader spectrum of practices and activities around local food centreSR: cooking classes, you know, people come together around food and become empowered around local food.

HB: And what do these partnerships bring to you and your work as a researcher?

KP: This has been a fantastic experience for me as a researcher: joining the meetings, being part of the work that The Larder has been doing and meeting the people and speaking with them.

HB: What are the biggest challenges of co-designed and co-produced research like this?

KP: From my experience, trust is very important, and this can only happen when you work with an organisation for a very long time, when you have established long-term trust-based relationships. It can actually be quite challenging for a researcher to become part of a community, and to then only co-produce knowledge. It needs, spending time with the organisation and its people, becoming friends with them. This is one of the biggest challenges developing collaboration like that, community organisations and charities and the third sector in general are facing more financial constraints, and this is also for the researcher who is working with community organisations. Funding doesn’t necessarily go and support this type of research. Impact is something that is not a one-way process, but it's something that is based on a mutual collaboration and respect.


HB: My conversation with Katerina really highlights some of the challenges around funding, and the need for different funding models. We spoke to Sam Roddick from the Roddick Foundation, an organisation that funds people engaged in work that really has a positive social impact and leads to real social change.

Samantha Roddick: My name is Samantha Roddick, I am one of the trustees of the Roddick Foundation, and the Roddick foundation is a family foundation that was born from my parent’s enterprise, and that was Gordon and Anita Roddick of The Body Shop.

HB: I know that responsible supply chain is something that's really important to the Roddick foundation. How did that develop?

SR: My family have always kind of supported and created large change-making institutes, like my dad founded and conceptualised The Big Issue for instance, and got involved in a myriad social enterprises and environmentally driven businesses like Bluewater and Divine Chocolate. They also set up cooperative businesses around the world who were their supply chain, so they were the first business heads to take full responsibility of their supply chain. They basically were a food-based company: banana conditioner, elderberry shampoo, and they went into communities and they helped set up cooperative businesses where the whole, not only the town benefited from running its own business, but also 25% of profits went back into education, and health care. So they had these cooperative businesses around the world, from Glasgow Soap Works, working in Ghana with the community there, working in India. Then they basically help those corporative businesses find different business opportunities with different suppliers, so they weren't like a typical supplier that guarded their source, but also at the same time, the business was a vehicle for social good. So it also politically lobbied for like, preventing animal testing for core ingredients and so forth.

HB: The Roddick Foundation funds organisations like The Larder through a joint initiative, Farming the Future. How does this fit in with the aims and ethos of the foundation?

SR: So Farming the Future really fits in with understanding there's a network of systemic change that needs to occur from activists, to community driven projects, to economic justice, to political campaigning, to also seeding small businesses, because small businesses are at the arc of innovation and care. Farming the Future was set up as a way to really challenge Brexit, so we were like, how do we utilise Brexit in a way to claim the values that we want to see actualized. It came out of two organisations, the Roddick Foundation and the A Team Foundation. The Roddick Foundation are really interested in activist mechanisms and actually transforming funding culture, and we take it all personally and we dig into the issues that we care about. The A Team Foundation are dedicated to agroecological movement principles, fair food, and environmental regeneration and biodiversity, so partnering together really brought together our skills. You know farming within the UK is an access to a lot of different issues, economic justice, access to food, who has access to good healthy ingredients, who has access to land. So it was one of these kind of panacea issues that also allows people to hold a deep-rooted relationship to climate change. Farming the Future really aimed at understanding that funding culture needs to be transformed and changed. By funding organisations and demanding progress in the way that it does it seeds competition in a very poorly funded sector, and actually bring the community and the actors together in a way that we can fund them working together and kind of sharing intelligence and resources. So that’s what Farming the Future does it funds around 80 organisations to work collaboratively together.

HB: You can really see how that idea of responsible supply chain tracks from the businesses your parents set up and through into the Roddick Foundation, and it really chimes in with the ethos of The Larder: ‘think global, act local’. How does Farming for Future support small businesses, especially in an environment dominated by the big supermarkets?

SR: I think the market isn’t competitive, if I’m going to be really honest then what we actually need to do is create true competition, and beyond that is co-opt the industry from being so divorced from its source, by making food a consumer product that has no origin is fundamentally one of the most dangerous things that we could do bcause it actually disenfranchises us as a society and as a culture from the very thing that nurtures us into health. So actually supporting Farming the Future and all the organisations, whether it’s Landworkers Alliance, all of the organisations that Kay and The Larder are associated to, there’s a whole myriad of organisations that she’s webbed into, that really is helping to kind of fortify a different type of conglomeration, a cooperative conglomeration that can hopefully build into being a real competitive contender.

HB: Kay said something that really stuck with me. She said, ‘there’s no such thing as cheap food, somebody is always paying for it somewhere along the line’, and I think that really sits at the heart of what you’re saying. The supermarkets have access to huge resources, especially around marketing. How do you help organisations like The Larder to be more competitive on that platform and get access to that kind of resource.

SR: It needs to be funded, fundamentally right now it needs to be resourced, but there’s different types of funding. If you’re funding people to work together, the sum part totals of what is actually created is a lot larger than funding something as an individual organisation or a different individual project. The only way that we’re going to get out of this mess is to be really collaborative, and really work in an open source shared way, and actually we need to take competition out of our language, competition is not really the mechanism that’s going to get us anywhere. Supermarkets co-opt the language of the agroecological movement, they basically harvest the ideas, they reconstitute them so they don’t have to be accountable to the truth, and then they present them as the heart of who they are. And the budget difference between the supermarket’s yearly collective marketing budget, I think it’s 443 million a year they spend on marketing, believing that supermarkets are the only solution and they’re the easy solution but it’s just actually not true. When you actually look at who is feeding Britain, who is providing food justice, and who is taking care of the supply chain globally via organisations like Via Campasina, the 200 million peasant farmers around the world that are linked in with Landworkers Alliance and so forth. They are the ones that are taking care of the most vulnerable. We need to really attack, and this is one of the projects of Farming the Future, investment and how investment works, how loans are given out and all the financial mechanisms that actually kill small, it doesn’t work with their processes. It's not streamlined. And so we've really got to start to invest in creating new models, being able to finance en masse smaller organisations doing a diverse range of services and practices that really mirror biodiversity. So, we need to tap into nature’s processes in the ways that all of our systems work. But I think that really the key thing, and this is why Farming the Future has identified agriculture, because when you look at the agroecological movement, you can see a smorgasbord and a curation of what I believe holds the solution for a better, fairer, more biodiverse, future. It’s not like we have to create these models, they already are in existence.

HB: I think that really is the power of cooperative systems isn’t it? Rigid ‘cookie cutter’ approaches leave no room for creativity, adaption and complexity? How did Farming the Future identify the organisations it wanted to work with?

SR: Fundamentally, the agroecological movement know about each other and they do work together it’s just that they are limited to how much they cam do, based on survival mode. The majority of them are understaffed, underpaid, and under resourced. The point is that if you resource their connection then essentially, they have the time, they have the space and they have the resource to be able to work together. They’re doing exceptional work, it's quite phenomenal what can be achieved because they’re the grassroots, they’re the heartbeat. I think what is really important to understand, that even though say you take a very small organisation, you have to understand that their size does not reflect the enormity of their vision, that we need to help them have a platform where people understand the true value of what they have to offer.

HB: And this really brings us back to something we’ve talking about earlier in the podcast, the role of research. What do you think research can bring to support the cooperatives and organisations like The Larder?

SR: I think researchers are imperative and I think information is imperative. I think what is underfunded is actually the creative response to that research, in a way that actually allows other thinkers to take that research and apply it where matters. So I think there’s a missing link between research and actually practitioners to be able to utilise the wealth of what we know rather than just letting it sit, hidden.

HB: For people listening, and people wanting to do more to support local business and responsible supply chain-

SR: I personally would love people to take a percentage of their budget and make sure it’s local. I think that is massive because the cascading results of that are huge. Like, once you start building local, you start building relationships. Once you start building relationships, you start sharing knowledge, you become emotionally attached to the people who are growing your food, and you start to then hold a deeper sense of appreciation about what you are consuming because it suddenly feels more special than a deal. There’s a falsity to the deals that you get which is, they sell you more stuff in the deal, you think you’re spending less but in fact you spend more on stuff you don’t need. I just feel like there’s an element of security and safety that our society is losing through this division that basically is remedied by really knuckling into your community.

HB: And what has the Foundation really been able to learn from working with organisations like The Larder? What will you take away with you?

SR: For me, being down south, working and prioritising northern solutions, and also understanding that actually Preston, Liverpool, Manchester, Lancashire, we really need to shine all of our kind of sense of intelligence and partnershipping, and really build social justice, environmental justice, food justice, economic justice. Because if we can shift the axis there then we’re changing the conversation from southern wealth privilege into citizen rights. Solutions change, like they're constantly moving according to what is being thrown into the mix i.e. COVID has literally shifted all of our thinking, and we’ve had to adapt to it. But what doesn’t change are the passion, and the drive, and the intent of people. So actually, if we invest in the people who are driven and passionate to bring a better world into actuality, you can shift the agendas, but actually the intent stays the same, the values stay the same. And those are the things that is quite interesting when you have a very market-driven kind of need to go, how do we change the world in the most efficient mass way. Well that's not going to happen like that because we start to realise that we're flawed in the way that we create systems. But actually if you invest in people, if you invest in communities, and you allow them to constantly move and adapt to what is needed, when it is needed, you start talking about this cyclical kind of sharing of knowledge, practice, and values, then you start to see change happen quite quickly and en masse. And I think that is what we’re trying to kind of play with, with Farming the Future.


HB: One issue that keeps coming up in my conversations is food poverty. Food poverty is defined as an inability to access or afford the food you need to make up healthy diet. Poor diet is linked to health issues and serious illnesses, and food poverty is now a public health emergency. 14% of UK households with children have experienced food poverty in the last six months and in Preston 44% of children lie below the poverty line. Food poverty is an issue that Kay has worked on for over two decades, and she’s tackling holiday hunger in Preston with the Kids in the Kitchen project.

KJ: We started off working in disadvantaged groups because my background had been in managing food poverty initiatives. We had a Kids in the Kitchen programme, that we had been doing face-to-face, we ran it during the holidays, we were due to start that in Easter. We decided to put it online so we had a week to put that online so what we did was we got ingredient kits out to people, put together a videos and online resources so that people could learn at home so at Easter we got 36 families involved and over the summer we’ve got 120 families from across Preston who are learning to cook. And these were families who would be eligible for free school meals so people who may experience holiday hunger.


HB: To find out how the Kids in the Kitchen project is going, we went to talk to Zainab, who’s been working with the families involved. Hi Zainab, tell me about the Kids in the Kitchen.

Zainabv: So the Kids in the Kitchen project, the summer programme, we’ve worked really closely with community gateway housing, they have helped identify families that we can work with. So, for the project we’re reaching out to families that are eligible for the free school meals and then we have a list of 20 families for the week. We will then communicate with the families over email, sharing out the weeks recipes, and we do try to change the recipes where we can.

HB: So what’s the aim of the Kids in the Kitchen project?

Z: To encourage families to cook together as a family, to encourage younger children and younger members of the family to get cooking, follow the recipes, and then cook different things at home. We also provide lots of seasonal vegetables and fruit, so it’s to try and get them thinking about all these things whilst everything we’re providing are for an affordable meal a family could make. Food and cooking meals is part of all of our daily lives and we all have different skills or different knowledge around cooking and recipes, and I think the main thing is trying to impart some knowledge. There's lots of things in our communities around things like obesity, and being more active, and food poverty, and there’s lots of coordination that goes on in the background to make these things happen.

HB: And what’s your role in the project?

Z: Mostly coordinating, looking at the recipes that we’ll be sending out to the families, looking at the ingredients, working with the volunteers, getting all the meals ready, and then we use our social media platforms, so our Facebook page, to encourage them to share their pictures and their comments. You know, every day, and as well as families that have been from week one and week two and week three, they can still follow and still engage with trying different recipes, and just trying to get them all engaged.

HB: And what do the families think about the project, what kind of feedback to you get?

Z: There’s been lots of really positive feedback, some of the families have said they’ve really enjoyed cooking together, they’ve found firm favourites for the future that they’ll be making, some of the parents have said they’ve been asked to make a certain recipe again. There’s obviously some of the families that have been a 50/50 split and that’s great - trying different things and different tastes and different foods, and that’s been really positive to see and some of the pictures that the families and parents have been sharing, they can like each other’s pictures and see what others have been doing. There are lots of others that follow the page, so everyone’s welcome to get involved and join in, we love to see pictures from anyone who’s taking part, that have signed up with us and receiving the meals, or if they’re in a different part of the country or a different part of the area, they can just follow the recipes online as well.

HB: And how have you found being part of the project?

Z: I just think it’s been really great to be involved and work with the families and work with the other volunteers. It’s been great to see how all of the different families have been so excited and enthusiastic about it as well.


HB: We can’t do a podcast like this and not mention Covid-19. I’ve been wondering how it’s impacted projects like The Larder and businesses like Wignalls Farm, and what role they play in supporting the community through the pandemic. Here is Clare on how Wignalls Farm has experienced Covid-19.

CW: The public have been very supportive to local businesses, there’s been a lot of local businesses doing deliveries, we’ve been pressing, bottling, infusing, delivering all the way through. Going forward obviously everyone’s a little bit wary, restaurants are wary about over-ordering food because we’ve heard from our customers how before we went into lockdown it was just before Mothering Sunday so they’d bought hundreds if not thousands of pounds worth of food, and they had to dispose of it which was awful. We lost all our restaurant trade since we went into lockdown. With restaurants and things, we didn’t know how everybody was, we didn’t have contact with the chefs and things so if we could see something on Facebook or Instagram, we’d know that everybody was okay. To know that all our customers are okay has been quite a big weight lifted off of – you get to know people like you’re friends.

HB: And here’s Kay, talking about what it’s been like for The Larder.

KJ: Covid-19 has affected us hugely. I was really worried, I was actually devastated at one point and I remember lying in bed just crying thinking, ‘I’ve spent years building this business up and I’m just going to lose it overnight’. As a business owner, I think a lot of people were very very worried and that was really horrible time. But what I think I thought, ‘I need to do something’, so very quickly we decided that we were going to deliver nutritious cooked meals to the community. So what we wanted to be able to do is give people cooked, nutritious meals that strengthened their immune system, we asked for volunteers to help with taking referrals, delivering meals, and cooking. So we pulled together a really fabulous team of people from across Preston who just got on it. At the busiest point we had about 120 meals going out a day. It’s really exposed some of the problems that people have around accessing food. We’re working with Age Concern and we’ve found a lot of older people who have been really struggling, particularly older men, people who have really been for a long time struggling to get proper meals and cook for themselves, so we now know that some of the meals that we are delivering to our older members of our community, we’ll need to find a way to be able to continue that. A really sad little example, about two weeks in, and we had been working really hard with all the organisations across Preston, who were trying to identify people in need, and there was an elderly chap outside the café. He said, ‘Are you open?’, and I said ‘Well, I’m sorry we’re not open but we are cooking meals if you’re hungry.’, and he said ‘I haven’t been able to get any money out of the bank, and I haven’t had any food all weekend, I’ve only had biscuits.’ Oh gosh, it made me cry. The banks were limiting their hours and people were finding it really difficult to find information about when the banks were open, and some people use cash, a lot of elderly people they use cash and don’t use card. We’ve been able to work closely with Age Concern actually and try and address some of these issues, so it’s been a very eye-opening journey over the last few months.


HB: It’s clear that for Preston, and for people involved in the community wealth building project, the links and relationships between institutions that support communities in times of crisis are already strong, with a strong culture in place about supporting local businesses and initiatives around health eating and food. And with The Larder providing an already existing hover network helping the community, how might this help Preston weather the storm? I ask Kay and Councillor Matthew Brown what they thought.

KJ: Particularly with the work that we’re planning with the Roddick Foundation and other national and local organisations, I think if we can scale up the work that we are doing at the moment, we could cushion some the effects that maybe other places might experience. We tried to put the word out about what we were doing to as many people as possible, so we were asking people through Facebook and other social media to check their neighbours because we’ve actually had quite a few people contacting us saying: ‘I’ve just seen my neighbour, and she’s said that she’s not eaten, or I’ve noticed that she’s lost a lot of weight’. So this has happened and thankfully a lot of people, it’s brought out the caring side of people and they have been really trying to support other members of the community. I’ve really experienced a lot of kindness in the last few months.

MB: Very much so, I think we will fare better because we’ve been at this for some years. People are more tolerant because, we’ve got this collective threat that we’re all facing and I think it’s brought out a lot of the best in people. I think we’re seeing more of an appetite for cooperative ways of working across the community. Again UCLAN has been fantastic, you look at some of the construction work they’ve done, I think they had a faith centre and there was I think a student’s union building, that all went to a local family-owned business, so it was local people who had jobs and I think that allows a real virtuous effect in terms of health outcomes. We’ve worked with a charity that would provide us with food to feed families and children during the summer when they didn’t have access to the school meals, that was really successful but building on that, we’ve managed to get lots of other organisations who are establishing food banks, supporting food hubs and other things. So you’re seeing that kind of cooperation that’s emerged really, so that then needs to be translated into support for something new economically, that is happening now in this pandemic.

HB: So what’s next for The Larder?

KJ: We’ve worked with UCLAN really over the last five years and that’s been a great relationship, and we have a UCLAN student who is doing her PhD on The Larder. I’m also doing my PhD on the work that I’m doing, I’ve just started that. We’re just about to embark on a piece of work, we’re developing a discounted food card. We are, at the moment we’re having conversations with a researcher who was at Lancaster University, who’s now at Sussex, but we know her and she knows our work well so we think it’s really important to make sure that what we’re doing can be modified and improved, so this really helps.

HB: In October, Kay was awarded an MBE for Services to Food Nutrition in the community in Lancashire, and she accepted it on behalf of The Larder team: ‘It may be my name on it, but it’s The Larder team who have worked hard to achieve this, and I’m really proud of everyone that’s been involved.’ This community of people is made up of policy makers, health workers, educators, researchers and students, and the impact that these people have had is incredible. The Larder has been the driving force behind events such as Disco Soup and Fast for Peace, where food donated by supermarkets is made into new dishes. Her Preston Roots initiative has trained more than 50 food county champions to deliver cooking classes, and Kay herself has delivered food hygiene training to 60 Syrian refugees. She’s also set up the Emergency Food Provision for Preston group, working with Age Concern, community gateway housing associations and the Foxton Centre. The list goes on, but what’s evident is they’re champions of the underrepresented, creating real impact for good. I’ll leave the final few works to Kay, and the community of Preston.

KJ: I just thought this was my mad idea and something that I wanted to do, but there isn’t a week that goes by where there isn’t somebody sending me an email or phoning up or popping into the café and asking ‘How can I get involved?’

Z: Kay is like the mastermind behind it all.

MB: Kay is very dynamic in what she does.

KP: That’s what The Larder is about, it’s about engaging with communities, being there for the community, being part of the community.

SR: They never give up, they give everything they’ve got, they achieve phenomenal amounts, and Kay is one of those people.

CW: People from Lancashire helping people from Lancashire, it’s lovely to know what people have done to help their community. That’s the great thing about The Larder, they do that all the time, The Larder has always done that.

KJ: I suppose it’s become my life’s work, now. I think that I’ve just found something that I’m good at and that I love.