Food poverty has been around a long time, but since I was elected as a Town Councillor for Chipping Norton Council, I’ve become all too aware that it’s a growing problem in our neck of the woods. Admittedly, the Cotswolds may not on the face of it seem as though it faces serious deprivation, but we have some of the poorest areas of West Oxfordshire in Chipping Norton. Extreme wealth and extreme poverty jostle up against each other here.

Wanting to address this ever-widening gap, I started a community lunch project before I was elected. We would have a few people come in and cook for around 50-60 people, helping bind the community together, giving people who needed it a nutritious meal, encouraging people to talk about food and cooking. It worked on a “give as much as you want” donation basis, but it was clear that I need a more sustainable model for the project. As luck would have it, I stumbled across the SOFEA Community Larder project in Didcot which seeks to minimise food waste and I was about to remodel what we were doing on that basis when the first lockdown came into force.

At that point, we went in overdrive sensing that people would quickly reach a crisis point for many. SOFEA were brilliant. I spoke with them about the challenges we were facing on Wednesday and by the Friday we were delivering the first of what became 9008 free food boxes to individual households thanks to their help.

As we came out of the first lockdown, I then looked to develop fully our new model. With support from West Oxfordshire DC we were able to use the Guildhall in Chipping Norton and have set up a community shop there. Midcounties Co-operative supplied us with shelving (and other supermarkets have been very supportive too) we have what at first glance might look like a regular like a Farmer’s Market with fruit and vegetables alongside non-perishable items laid out for people to buy. But the difference is the pricing. For £3.50 people can buy what would otherwise cost around £20 – people are getting healthy, affordable food which would otherwise go to landfill. We’re also able to draw on a huge pool of volunteers from across the community – it’s very typical that staff from the local leisure centre come and help out in the Larder. It’s a financial win, an environmental win, and it’s helping to patch our community back together again.

With a huge amount of support and goodwill from everyone in the community, the District Council, and SOFEA we have travelled a long way, very quickly. The demand for what we are doing is self-evident. What is holding us up now is the lack of a permanent venue. Watch this space.