The world is a very different place to when I last wrote for the Co-op Party back in June 2019, saying it was “Time for Food Justice”. The global COVID-19 pandemic has shone a light on the inequalities that too many people were already living with on a daily basis, one of these being the lack of resources for and access to food.  Here in West Lothian, we have made significant progress on our journey towards a hunger-free county.

After successfully passing my motion to the council, the first step was to understand the extent of the challenge within our communities and the current levels of food provision. A two pronged mapping exercise was undertaken: firstly, to assess the extent of food insecurity in West Lothian by examining existing data which informed the local Anti-Poverty Strategy as well as information from ongoing work with community planning partners; secondly, to map existing food provision including help and support from council services along with that of community groups. With the information gathered, an interactive map was produced to highlight food projects across the county giving access to food for those in need

A food conference,’ Food with Dignity’, was held on 12th March bringing together members of public bodies and third sector organisations to share their local experiences of food insecurity and food poverty as well as local projects to address the issue. The conference also heard a presentation on the ‘A Menu for Change’ project which looked at food insecurity in three local authorities in Scotland.  Attendees were invited to complete a pledge card stating how they will contribute to local solutions.  I was also able to confirm that alongside other funding to support the delivery of the Anti-Poverty Strategy, West Lothian Council had specifically set aside £150k to help towards reducing food insecurity by:

  • supporting a two year time limited project to establish and develop a West Lothian Food Network
  • increasing funding to host The Big Lunch in local communities
  • the provision of starter packs to those accessing the Scottish Welfare Fund

Whilst funding is vital in helping deliver much of the work required, equally important is having the commitment and support from community partners. Without the solid foundation of relationships and partnership working already in place, I do not believe progress would have been possible at the same pace.  Having the food network co-ordinator in place just a few weeks after lockdown helped deliver a co-ordinated response to the unprecedented challenges faced by our local communities. It also facilitated the development of a local food hub to co-ordinate the donation of foodstuffs as well as to act as a central collection point for local organisations involved in delivering food packages, stocking community fridges and producing meals for residents in our towns and villages who struggled to access food.

We have lived through the most challenging of times, perhaps the biggest health crisis many of us will see in our lifetime. However despite the challenges, we have discovered a resilience and agility to respond to an ever evolving, complex situation and a renewed commitment to seek longer term solutions to eliminate hunger in our communities. The measures outlined above in conjunction with the development of a food action plan, and alignment with both the existing Anti-Poverty Strategy and emerging Food Growing Strategy, will ensure a consistent and holistic approach is adopted with a clear pathway to deliver meaningful change, change that means everyone who needs it has access to food. It’s as simple as that.