What is the name of the project/ activity?
Sherwood Food Exchange
Where did the idea come from?
Prior to lock down I was struggling to find much food within my local supermarket and witnessed the impact of people panic buying in fear of what was to come.
When returning home, I noticed people within Sherwood posting similar observations about the lack of food availability within our local community group, Sherwood in Nottingham. I suddenly wondered what people might think of the idea of having access to foods such as pasta and supplies such as washing up liquid from open and accessible containers which might save them the hassle of having to locate shops where they could buy such products. I also thought that a lot of people who had already panic bought may well be now realising that they did have spare items they might want to swap for items they had been unable to find within their local supermarkets.
I posted my idea on our local community Facebook page called ‘Sherwood in Nottingham’ and found most people to be supportive and encouraging and some doubtful of whether it might just attract theft or anti-sociable behaviour.
The next day I contacted a few local businesses and fortunately contacted Mike Douglas from VISAV- A Nottingham based web design company providing content managed websites, for agencies such as neighbourhood watch and Nottinghamshire Police Constabulary. Fortunately, Mike, who also ran the Sherwood Business Centre was also very community minded like myself and was keen enough to provide me the land and financial backing to make the project work!
Was it developed as a new initiative/ project/ group? Or was it an existing organisation/ group changing what it did?
The exchange was developed as a completely new initiative.
What did you hope to achieve? What was your initial aim?
I wanted to give people access to food and the supplies they were short of and to encourage people to share and pull together as a community. I also wanted to reduce the impact of job loss and food poverty and to make the exchange accessible, not just for people receiving benefits, but also for people who were not in receipt of benefits but still experiencing poverty and food poverty.
After posting my initial idea up on Facebook and receiving local support, I then set about looking for local businesses and organisations who might support my initiative and provide me with me with funding and use of their land and sent off emails the following morning outlining the project aims and what was required.
Meanwhile, knowing that there would be health and safety and food safety implications for running such a project I looked up phone numbers for public health advisers within Nottingham and food safety advisers. I found a phone number for a lady who worked for Nottingham Council and emailed her straight away with a brief synopsis of what I intended to do and then started ringing people the next day until I managed to speak to a health and food safety adviser within the local council who advised me what protocols would have to be followed.
Once hearing back from Mike from the Sherwood Business centre and acquiring land and possible funds, I then looked up the phone number for Nottingham City Council and called them initially asking to speak to environmental health before finding out that the Council employed a health and safety food adviser. Fortunately, I managed to get to speak to her that day to explain my idea and got to hear about what stipulations were important to have in place to protect the health and wellbeing of the general public coming to use the exchange. From this phone call, I learnt about general food and safety protocols and also about probable Covid-19 guidelines and then set out to write a risk assessment to ensure that controls were put in place to identify, negate or minimise any possible future risks to health and safety of visitors to our exchange.
The next day, I met with Mike Douglas and his team, looked at the land and talked about my vision and what would be required. I gave Mike a shopping list of the things we required such as boxes and, from information gained from the food and safety officer, we were able to list a range of food items which we could store in the exchange- items which did not require freezing or refrigeration such as fruit and vegetables, tinned goods, confectionary and household goods. We then devised how we would separate and advertise each category of items to ensure that the exchange was simple to use both for people donating and for people taking from the exchange.
Then, with health and food safety in mind, I went away and wrote the words which were required to indicate what food was in each box, safety and usage of the exchange posters and all other signage which was required to ensure that the exchange was not only advertised via social media but also advertised to local businesses and residents within our community.
Fortunately, a very talented graphic designer called Trevor Gibson who worked within the Sherwood Business Centre kindly offered to design our posters, logo and signage for free and by the end of day two, we already had draft posters ready, a valid risk assessment and everything on order required for our opening just less than two weeks later! Then, my next task was to send posters and my risk assessment back and forth to the health and food safety representative within Nottingham Council to ensure that we had addressed all probable risk factors within our signage and risk assessment.
Meanwhile, I set up a Facebook page solely for the Sherwood Food Exchange and an email address and started to get local interest. I also then wrote out to local businesses informing them of what we were doing and requesting for donations. Then, we were ready for launch on Monday the 30th of March!
For the remaining 12 days prior to opening, I produced live videos and posted them on Facebook informing community residents about our scheduled opening. I also went around shops telling them about the exchange as well as dropping some leaflets off door to door around the estate where I live. Then, on the 28th of March, Mike and I set up the site and put up the flat packed plastic food containers. I then returned to site on Sunday the 29th of March having advertised this day as donation day and waited on site all day to receive food donations and to talk to residents and passers by about the food exchange. Then, finally on the 30th of March we officially opened and couldn’t have wished for a more positive opening.
Word had got around to ITN news and our first morning of opening was televised on regional television. Very fortunately, two people who worked for ITV happened to live within our community and I was contacted by them and asked whether we would like to talk about the project on regional news. Of course, the answer was yes, and that publicity then was followed quickly by Notts TV and then BBC Radio Nottingham- both also hearing about the project via our Facebook presence and word of mouth.
Once running, I then had to ensure that the exchange was cleaned, checked and sanitised daily. To ensure this, I had to use Facebook to advertise for volunteers and it was through this advertising that I was contacted by Nottingham Volunteering Service who were then able to signpost volunteers our way who were looking to volunteer during lock down. Also, when initially communicating on our community Facebook page called ‘Sherwood in Nottingham’, I had so much interest and people coming forwards to offer their support, so I naturally went back to take up on their kindness! I also advertised on other local community Facebook pages such as Sherwood Nottingham asking for volunteers to come forwards and the response was overwhelming. Then, I continued to make live Facebook videos to ensure that people continued to donate and to look for donations of funds to help us run as well as donations of food and hand sanitiser.
I then continued to coordinate and run the exchange and the volunteers until I was fortunate enough to have the support of a fantastic volunteer coordinator Laura Clarke who happened to be furloughed from her job at the time. Through talking with Nottingham Volunteering Service, I was given Laura’s contact and I was so fortunate as Laura was furloughed from a volunteer coordinator post where she recruited and managed a team of volunteers who worked for the National Autistic Society. Laura initially came to volunteer but became a good friend, as a lot of the volunteers did, and, when I started paid employment as a social prescribing link worker and started to have less time to devote to the project, Laura very kindly offered to take over with the recruitment and management of the volunteers who gave their time to clean and sanitise the food exchange.
Laura’s support and leadership was crucial to keeping the exchange running from the period of June to August 2020 and she even stepped in to help me purchase food for the exchange when knowing I was struggling to meet former commitments due to undertaking a full time employment position.
Eventually, following the relaxing of rules of lock down on July the 4th, we started to note that the exchange was not being used as much as initially. Laura also had to go back to work and between myself and Mike and our team, we decided that the exchange should come to an end and we decided that the 2nd of August would be a good date as would give people enough time to readapt to tier 2 restrictions and the reopening of businesses. We did try to look towards future venues before this time but sadly, could not find any local businesses or organisations to house the exchange. Plus, with myself and Laura back at work, we felt that we could not run the exchange as tightly and safely as possible as we were not able to input time into the management of the exchange or the volunteers.
Did you get the take up you expected?
Yes! We had a good range of groups of people using the exchange from people working, students to disabled people, unemployed people and even people who were homeless towards the end. This is exactly what we wanted. To be available for everybody.
Did you make any changes as time went on and the virus became less acute for some people?
Yes, myself and Mike and his team from VISAV initially decided upon day time opening hours which were 9-5 pm but soon realised that some people were reluctant to use the exchange during the day time or may not think to come out during their 'permitted exercise' during the day time so we decided to state that we were open 24 hours a day as technically, there was nothing from stopping people from coming to donate then take food from us and we wanted to be accessible. Also, as people started to go back to their work places we needed to be accessible within the hours after their work.
We also noticed that as local council workers became aware of us, some were not advertising us as an exchange and more as a food bank. This was leading to food being taken and not replaced. So, I had to call both Nottingham and Nottinghamshire County Council and ensure information was cascaded down to front line staff that we were not a food bank and that we were an exchange were people were encouraged to swap food. In addition to this, we produced further signage which we put within the food boxes. This signage gently reminded people that the exchange was a place for sharing food. After this I noted that we appeared to get an increase in household wares donated and I did wonder whether people were bringing these because they had little food to share. This was quite saddening and reflective of what is now evidently a rise in food poverty within our community.
Based on your experience, what do you think that communities can do best on their own?
Pull together and share resources. I was overwhelmed by the kindness of local people and businesses who got behind the idea.
Likewise, I loved the shared sense of community we had created with our exchange- that we really were in it together and standing together and sharing what we had to ensure our neighbours were not going without.
Based on your experience, was there any help that would have made your work easier?
I was so fortunate to find a like-minded entrepreneur within Mike Douglas- who too believed within the power of community and coming together.
Mike was my lucky break as without Mike, the project may not have got off the ground.
I think going forwards, having a list available of community minded professionals, entrepreneurs and businesses would be a great help. Knowing where or whom to go to is essential and I am so pleased I found Mike from VISAV.
Based on your experience, were there actions you wanted external agencies to take?
I did approach most local businesses within the local area who remained open during lock down. I found the larger retailers were already supporting local and national charities. However, local community groups and businesses such as the V Spot vegan shop were instrumental in keeping our exchange stocked with good foods such as fresh bread, flour and jars such as pasta sauces and vegetables.
What are your overall reflections on the project?
So, my advice is, if you want to set up something within your community similar to this, approach your local volunteering support agency first- as you are going to require some volunteers to get your project running! However, if you would like access to the risk assessments and posters I had drawn up, I am happy for you to contact me