Fighting the Covid-19 food war in Lincoln

In Lincoln, the local food system under Covid-19 doesn’t feel very joined up. There are lots of organisers. The local state (City and County) is marshalling community groups and individual volunteers (but with no obvious pre-determined strategy for food, or direct provision).

The Local Enterprise Partnership is trying to get folk onto the land to pick the stuff (we grow a quarter of all UK fruit and veg in the County and 40% of all flowers). Sustainable Food Places (organising some 59 urban groups nationally) wants city food partnerships to assemble ‘grassroots’ groups. Even here at the Lincoln Food Partnership, we are trying to put people in touch with each other. It is all about organising.

But who is actually doing local food delivery?

Obviously, food retail is doing well – for those who can afford it. But cafes, restaurants and pubs may never recover. This is of particular concern for the Lincoln Food Partnership as we have a network of social eating spaces (all now closed) for the vulnerable and those with special needs. In these places, it is the communion, as well as the food, that is important. Without the communion, those already vulnerable are doubly vulnerable.

Mint Lane Cafe – Lincoln

Interestingly, our waste food social café – Mint Lane – would have struggled anyway: waste food availability in the City has plummeted. 

But there is much heartening news in feeding (and communing with) those in need under Covid-19, from the ground up. At the most disaggregated, the ‘Nextdoor’ App allows anyone (with a phone or a computer, granted) to put a dot on the Ward map if they need food support. And anyone who has any food offerings (including doing the shopping) can do the same – in a different colour. Pairing with someone in your own street in this way seems very satisfying.  

Not everyone can access Nextdoor. At the Lincoln Food Partnership we have set up an Emergency Response Group of all of the food banks in the City – traditional, church-based and the Lincoln Mosque – so they are now working through a unified referral, point of contact and monitoring system. Free emergency food parcels can be picked up at nine centres in the City, but 40% of provision is home delivery.

The Churches, YMCA, School Holiday Clubs – over ten of these groups – also have set up food provisioning services in their locality, where many of the vulnerable are known personally.  

Some schools have been particularly innovative, turning their kitchens over to production not only for their children at home (with many a schoolteacher doing the daily food run (often literally), but also for anyone over 70 in the school community).    

Lincoln catering companies have risen to the challenge, too. The Slated Orange Food Company is working with Age UK to feed the over 65s in their ‘Partnership with Purpose’ project. The Castle Hotel is providing free daily meals direct to front line workers at the Hospital.

With sparser populations, rural areas can be neglected. But in Lincolnshire, schools in Washingborough and Gainsborough are leading with food distribution, the latter making use of that new citizen, the taxi-driver-dad. Food Banks in Horncastle and Sleaford have opened their remit to the community (for those in need and those who want to volunteer alike). The Wragby ChEF (Children Eat Free) is, likewise, feeding the whole community.

This is all most heartening. Much of the action is coming from the plain good citizen and from the voluntary and community sector. But here is the rub. These groups – many of them Lincoln Food Partnership Members – are falling below the radar of government help. Being neither businesses, employed or self-employed they do not qualify for formal support. And whilst the charity sector is awash with Covid-19 funds that might be bid for, many do not have the time in their hectic food provisioning (and some do not have the skills), to apply.

As I write this, Lincolnshire’s very own Red Arrows have flown over three times, practising to make perfect. They are majestic, awesome. And they cost the Nation about £10 million a year to run. I reflect on whether our national Defence Policy is tooled up to fight the right war.

More detail of the Covid-19 Food Response in Lincoln is on the Lincoln Food Partnership web site – under Covid-19, and in our newsletters from March under the blog section, recount some individual project stories. 

Nigel Curry is the founder and Chair of the Lincoln Food Partnership Board, is Founding Professor, at the Countryside and Community Research Institute and Visiting Professor at the University of Lincoln