Bristol Goods, the Caring in Bristol project that makes good food do good things is working hard to address food injustice in Bristol. We’re able to make the project work even harder to break the link between food insecurity and homelessness through the work of our volunteers. They are residents from the communities that the project works in, and they provide real insight into the issues, and know that the work is both needed and effective. Theirs is an important voice in the conversations during Food Justice Week (June 20th), an initiative started by Feeding Bristol, an organisation that brings these voices together.
Here we meet two of the volunteers who support the project week in week out. Their experience helps us to understand that the rising costs of food are eating up scarce personal finances. Soaring costs in fuel, transport and rents is doing the same thing. With people’s basic human needs now competing for the income that could never hope to meet all the demands made on it. They are running out of options.
Hayley uses the pop-up food club herself as well as volunteering. She’s thought a lot about the systems through which food is distributed and sold. She refers to the current cost-of-living crisis, “It’s awful. Even when people have got a job, with the price of fuel and petrol they can’t afford to get their shopping. If they can, it’s just the basics, like bread and porridge. At Bristol Goods you’ve got the healthy stuff, fruit, and vegetables. If you look in the supermarkets, that’s all the expensive stuff. It should be the opposite way round. Veg shouldn’t be more expensive than chocolate bars.”
She lives in the project’s area, and her on-the-ground perspective tells her that Bristol Goods relieves the pressure for its members. She has seen the difficulties around inadequate and costly transport and does shopping for older people that she knows are not in a position to travel to reach the nearest supermarket. This is no surprise, since the area has been identified as a food desert, with lower-than-average provision of supermarkets. She sees the pop-ups as a resource. They relieve financial pressure through their low-cost membership, and boost wellbeing through the wide choice of fresh and dry goods.
Hayley is joined by Kate, also a local resident, who values living in a diverse community. She has found that friends and neighbours are being forced to travel to other parts of the city just to get food that is appropriate to their diet. It’s not just access to food, it’s access to the right foods. The fact that rising food costs are hitting people across the entire community has not gone unnoticed. Thankfully, Bristol Goods is having an impact. Kate says, “There’s all different kinds of people coming in. They’re just over the moon, and they’re staying for coffees and chat, and they’re making new friendships. You can see the need.”
There is agreement from Hayley, who values the way that Bristol Goods is also building community. “I’ve lived here all my life,” She tells us, “We’ve got a community. We might not have a lot, but we’ve got more community than we’ve got money. We’ve got heart.” It’s this grass-roots energy that supports Bristol Goods to relieve the pressure that pushes people closer and closer to a housing crisis. Caring in Bristol believes in a city that can solve homelessness, and this determination from the heart of a community is a vital part of the solution. Kate is clear about the link between food injustice and homelessness, laying out the stark situation for many, “Once things start going down and the food runs out, and you can’t afford the gas and electric, then it’s your rent you let slide next. It’s scary!” We’ve spoken with many people who are living with this constant and pervasive fear.
Bristol Goods provides an oasis of practical and moral support. As well as being able to choose the foods they like, members are able to access advice and support. Working in partnership with the community in this way means that the project can help people to avoid the disaster of homelessness. Creating room to breath by removing some stress from people’s budgets, and boosting their understanding of their housing and other options is proving to be an effective approach. Kate homes in on this, “People don’t have to be frightened of not eating.”
It’s inspiring to consider that everyone involved with Bristol Goods is committed to creating and nurturing valuable community bonds. Kate is determined to build on the incredible work already established, and says, “People don’t always eat well. We’ve now got a slow cooker and we’re going to be making stews or soups to take away. We’re going to have some reusable packaging that people can bring back each week. Obviously, we’ll be using Bristol Goods food for that. It’s an extra layer of support. If they like it, they can have the recipe, and cook it themselves.” It’s clear that the volunteers and members, supported by the Bristol Goods team are feeding the future, and supporting hearts and minds.