Photo by Theo Moye 26/06/21 Luke Pollard MP visits one of Hubbub’s Community Fridges, helped with funding from the Co-op, at the Kintsugi Project in the Leadworks, Rendle Street, Plymouth. Luke Pollard is pictured with Co-op Campaigns and Public Affairs Senior Manager Alison Scowen.

Too many families in Plymouth are struggling to afford food. We know that at least 29.8% of children in Plymouth are living in poverty. That’s a total of 14,170 children, an increase of 869 children living in poverty in Plymouth in the last five years – nearly 29 more classrooms full of children.

We need a proper strategy to eradicate child poverty in our city. But while the government sits on its hands, people in Plymouth are stepping up.

Last week I visited a new Community Fridge which has recently opened up in Plymouth, the result of a new partnership between environmental charity Hubbub and the Co-op, being run by the Kintsungi Project in Stonehouse.

This Community Fridge is part of a network of over 150 fridges, set to increase by other 100 over the next year. Hubbub and the Co-op are aiming to save over 6.8 million meals per year from going to waste by taking surplus food and sharing it with communities throughout the UK.

These fridges offer a community-focussed and co-operative solution to the challenges of delivering food justice, addressing food insecurity, and eliminating food waste. Whilst emergency solutions like food banks are sadly necessary when people reach a crisis point in their lives, community fridges can help people avoid needing food banks in the first place and assist people to move on from becoming reliant on them. This is rooted in the co-operative values we hold dear – of solidarity, equality and self-help.

The brilliant thing about the Community Fridges is that they are open to everyone – without the need to be referred or to prove eligibility – to share fresh food. During my visit I learnt how the food at the Kintsungi Project has been made available by local businesses – including the Co-op – which would otherwise have gone to waste.

I also saw first-hand how Community Fridges are about much more than improving access to food. The fridge will provide opportunities for local people to learn new skills through activities such as cookery session and workshop on growing fruit and veg.

My visit took place in Co-ops Fortnight, the annual celebration of all things co-operative. As a Labour and Co-operative MP I’m proud of the work the campaign the Co-op Party has set up on food justice.

Their food justice campaign not only looks for the government to act, by making sure everyone has a right to food, but also promoting local action now to alleviate the problems communities face. The Stonehouse Community Fridge is an inspiring example of how local people working together can develop a community-led solution that will help build community resilience and make a difference to their community.

I lead for Labour on food policy, and I want to be very clear: in a rich country we should not have food banks, emergency food provision or community fridges. Everyone should be able to afford good quality, nutritious food for them and their family. The rising poverty we are witnessing in our communities means we are a long way from where we should be here. Food poverty is not about a lack of food, it is about a lack of money. There is more than enough money for every family to have three good meals a day, but many people cannot afford this.

I sometimes get asked why I fight, and why I do politics. Food poverty is one of those reasons. It should shame us all, that in a rich country like Britain, there are still so many people going hungry. That must change. In the meantime, I want to thank all those groups who are going the extra mile to help people get food – thank you.