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Food for thought: Local initiatives changing the way we think about food

Jessica Barton is president of Soroptimist International Peterborough – a group of women striving to make a difference to the lives of women and girls around the world.

Today is World Hunger Day – an initiative created in 2011 by The Hunger Project to bring awareness to the more than 690 million people living in chronic hunger. Food insecurity in the UK is among the worst in Europe, a recent report by the environmental audit committee has said.

A report by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee recognised that nearly 6million adults and 1.7million children struggled to get enough food between September 2020 and February 2021. 

The fight to end hunger is no easy task, but there are local charities and groups dedicated to combating food insecurity, food waste and hunger. Here are four inspiring women who are tackling these areas head on.   

Lianne Simpson, founder of Diamond Hampers 

As a mother of five, it’s fair to say that Lianne Simpson has her hands full, but that didn’t stop her from setting up Diamond Hampers in January last year. Her mission? To support people in financial crisis with food and tackle the stigma attached to receiving food aid. 

Since then, Lianne has opened The Pantry - a shop in Huntingdon, which sells food destined to landfill at an affordable price. She works seven days a week, completely voluntary, and is supported by two directors - Sally Howell and Charlotte Heritage – a team of volunteers, and a support network of nearby food aid providers.  

Lianne said: "We provide emergency food parcels to people initially. We’ve then got some great relationships with other organisations so that we can make a referral to the right people. This chain of support is about finding the root cause of a person’s problem to reduce their dependency on food aid."

Each month, Diamond Hampers rescues 25 tonnes of food from local supermarkets that would have otherwise gone to waste. It then gets sold at a much-reduced price at The Pantry.  

"It’s all about independence for people," Lianne added. "They can come to the shop and make their own choices. And it’s helping the environment too.”"

The Pantry has been so successful that Lianne intends to open another two, with one planned for Peterborough. She is also opening another shop, an extension of The Pantry, offering affordable essentials for the home.  

"The shop is open to all. Anyone can come in and help us redirect surplus food. The more money that goes through The Pantry, the more we have to help support people in financial crisis," she said. 

Visit the Diamond Hampers website to find out more. 

Sam Disney, regional manager at FoodCycle 

Running in the city for over two years, FoodCycle Peterborough uses surplus food to not only feed local communities but to strengthen them by tackling social isolation too.  

The charity’s staff and volunteers turn surplus food from supermarkets into a free three-course meal for their guests, regularly feeding around 80 people a week. They also provide bags of any extra food for guests to take with them.  

Heading up the Peterborough project is regional manager Sam Disney, who also supports FoodCycle projects across the East of England.  

She said: "Pre-Covid, we had people come not necessarily because they were hungry but because they wanted the social side too. To be able to come and have a meal, sit down and chat with other people is a great side of what we do."

Despite Covid-19 restrictions putting a stop to communal eating, FoodCycle has adapted its services. At the beginning of the pandemic, this meant delivering food parcels. They now run a ‘Click and Collect’ service so that guests can take their meals home. 

Of course, this reduces the social element of the project, but the charity has come up with a solution. Its ‘Check-in and Chat’ service is a weekly country-wide befriending call for anyone who would like one.  

Sam added: "We could still give people food, but it was the social interaction they were missing. With Check-in and Chat, our volunteers have a quick chat with them to help combat loneliness. It’s been so successful that we’re going to continue it."

FoodCycle welcomes anyone – no referrals necessary – and is open at Park Road Baptist Church every Monday between 12:30-1:30pm. Visit the FoodCycle Peterborough for more information.    

Tracey Herbert and Fiona Winchester, Peterborough Homeless Helpers 

Peterborough Homeless Helpers (PHH) is a community group which has been running since early 2018. Started by Tracey Herbert, who was inspired to help the homeless by local man Martin Burns, two others have since joined her, including Fiona Winchester. 

Three years on, and with help from local people and businesses, PHH supports people to survive the reality of sleeping rough, and it does so in a variety of ways, including providing hot meals and other food items to rough sleepers across the city.   

"We operate on a 100% donations and self-funding basis," Tracey said. "By partnering with other community groups, charities, individuals and businesses, we support those living in food poverty by providing hot meals and food bags each week."

Most recently, PHH was also involved in the Government’s ‘Everyone In’ initiative to feed those placed in the hotels. "Our hot meal provision peaked at 200 a week," says Fiona.  

It’s PHH’s volunteers and “incredible community spirit” that Fiona and Tracey attribute to the continuation of the group. 

"The distribution of clothing and food takes little time," says Fiona. "What takes hours is the preparation. We are so lucky to have an incredible team of volunteers who are committed."  

Fiona and Tracey have jobs and other personal commitments, but both find the time to run this community initiative.  

Tracey said: "My thoughts and intentions are very simple; when something is wrong or at a disadvantage, there are ways to try to make things 'right' or better. We have come a long way into helping make that happen."

Fiona added: "Our passion and commitment are strong. This, together with the amazing support of the people of Peterborough, enables us to deliver all that we do."

Find out more about Peterborough Homeless Helpers on Facebook.  

The Hunger Project is asking you to tell your friends and family about World Hunger Day. Learn more here