At Community Gateway, we often use the phrase ‘more than just a landlord’. That’s been true more than ever at this challenging time, as our entire workforce has come together to support our communities and tenants.
For many years now, our Tenancy Support Team has successfully set up food hubs across Preston and these have proved a lifeline for many. From day one of the lockdown, we restarted the service twice weekly, working with FareShare and Recycling Lives to deliver more than 4,500 food parcels to families in the city. We’ve also introduced a ‘mobile pantry’, delivering food hampers to our older customers, who may be self-isolating or vulnerable with no nearby support.
One partner with whom we have a special relationship is local social enterprise, The Larder. Set up five years ago, the Larder promotes healthy, nutritious food that is local, seasonal and waste-free, with all its profits going to communities in need. They also deliver a range of activities including food distribution and food-related training, and have been a key player in helping us highlight and address issues like food poverty and food waste.
Here at Community Gateway, we have worked closely with The Larder for a number of years, supporting our customers and communities to learn new skills to allow them to create nutritional meals on a budget, as well as promoting wellbeing and community cohesion with weekly ‘cook and eat’ sessions. Some people on our employability programme have achieved vocational qualifications in catering and food hygiene with The Larder.
As part of our coronavirus response, The Larder set up a delivery service, providing free fresh nutritional ready-cooked meals to vulnerable people across Preston. Meals come both hot and ready to eat or can be cooked later, depending on the needs and capabilities of the recipient. This mixed offer sets them apart from others in that it works well both for those who struggle to cook, and those who want to retain their independence and prepare food themselves, but can’t afford ingredients or get to the shops. Establishing the service was incredibly resource intensive and not cheap to run, but with an army of volunteers covering admin, cooking and distribution and crowdfunding donations from partner agencies like ourselves, it has proved extremely successful.
Kay, founder of The Larder, explains the concept: “We tailor our deliveries so that everyone can get a healthy and nutritious free meal in the way that works for them. Partners like the council or Community Gateway refer people to us who they think would benefit. Community Gateway have been especially helpful with their fleet of drivers helping us deliver meals across the city.”
Rob Wakefield, Chief Executive at Community Gateway, can’t praise the Larder enough: “In the early stages of the pandemic when shelves were empty, Kay and her team were an absolute godsend to us. One of our priorities is tackling homelessness and we manage a small hostel at Fox Street in the city centre. The Larder helped us get hot meals six days a week to our 18 male residents, as our supplies ran dry. Nothing was too much trouble for them – they even gave us disposable cutlery to protect our homeless community, until we could get them safely into places of their own.”
The Larder were keen to encourage children to learn how to cook, whilst also providing families who are struggling with nutritional, home-cooked meals. Equally, we wanted to support our communities and help to inspire and upskill the tenants of the future, and so our Kids in the Kitchen initiative was born.
The Larder sourced all the food locally and made up parcels for each family with three days’ worth of fresh ingredients and accompanying recipe cards. We promoted the project on our online channels, encouraging families to sign up and take part, and delivered the parcels. My team uploaded a video each day for families to watch our Larder colleagues preparing and cooking each meal, so the children could have a go at home.
The feedback we’ve had has been amazing, with many children making and enjoying dishes they had never tasted before. We had 36 families sign up and many, like mum of two Sandra, say it’s been invaluable. Sandra said:
"I found out about Kids in the Kitchen on Facebook through my housing association. I thought they were just going to share recipes and cookery classes online, I didn’t realise they were going to provide the ingredients. That was a real help, because we’d never have bought those things.
"My youngest son is fussy and only eats what he eats, but actually Kids in the Kitchen has changed his attitude. Because he made meals himself and got involved – things like homemade pizza, macaroni cheese, curry, soup, things we’d not normally make – he’s loved it."
We are now looking to continue Kids in the Kitchen to combat holiday hunger over the summer, helping parents whose kids would normally be eligible for a free school meal. Using the recent trial as a barometer, we’re confident we will be able to work with 20 families each week in this next round, meaning more than 120 will benefit overall.