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Your Local Pantry: A triumph of community resilience, offering dignity, choice and hope in a time of crisis

In the midst of the dark times, the rapid growth of the Your Local Pantry network across the country, offers a beacon of hope, demonstrating that local communities can be at the forefront of developing practical and sustainable long-term responses to the current crisis. 

Over the past nine months, the Your Local Pantry network has grown exponentially, and is rapidly becoming a key component of a community-led recovery from the pandemic in towns and cities across the country. 

The growth of Your Local Pantry represents a further flourishing of the community-led mutual-aid movement which has a long history in the UK, and which has very much come back to the fore in response to the coronavirus crisis.  Local Pantries, as sustainable member-run food clubs, are a move away from the model of foodbanks, with their focus on emergency food handouts, towards a more sustainable long-term response to food poverty.  More than this, Local Pantries promote health well-being, saving money and building community and social connection, offering their members dignity, choice and hope in a time of crisis.

Our new  Pantries social impact report, published this month, demonstrates how Local member-run Pantries have been instrumental in increasing resilience, building community, saving money, promoting health and well-being for thousands of members across UK.  The network has more than trebled in size from 14 Pantries in March 2020, and is now looking forward to welcoming the 50th Pantry to the network in the next few weeks. In terms of sheer numbers, Liverpool has led the way, with ten new Pantries (with a combined membership of over 2,200) opened by St Andrews Community Partnership, with the support of Liverpool City Council and Together Feeding in the past nine months. There are also rapidly growing clusters of Pantries in the West Midlands, Edinburgh, Cardiff and London, but Pantries have also opened also as far afield as Lowestoft, Dover, Salisbury and Dorset.  On the basis of current levels of interest, the network could quite easily double in size again over the next two years.

A key component of each Local Pantry in the network is ensuring that people have access and choice to good quality food, but the in depth research conducted with Pantry members over the past few months demonstrates that the impact of being a Pantry member extends far beyond simply access to food.  Wider benefits include saving money (£15-£20 per visit, and up to £800 a year per member), promoting health and well-being, offering volunteering and employability and ultimately, rebuilding social connectedness and the positive vibe of a community coming together to address its own needs.  For many members, Pantries also enable them to play their part in saving the planet; reducing food waste, and preventing surplus food ending up in landfill.

An impressive range of partner organisations, have got on board and share the vision of how Local Pantries can help transform local communities, and offer local people dignity, choice and hope. Local authorities from Liverpool city council, through to Burgess Hill town council in Sussex, Oasis Academy Trust in the West Midlands, Peabody Housing Trust in London, a GP-surgery in Dorset, a local arts centre in north Edinburgh, through to a whole host of local neighbourhood organisations and faith groups.  One of our newest Pantries is due to be opened in the next few weeks by the Abbey Community Centre, just round the corner from Westminster Abbey at the heart of the capital.

Pantries are a key component in community-led recovery, but must be set aside action by governments and employers across the UK, to ensure that households have access to secure and adequate incomes, to the extent that they can choose where and how to access good quality food on a regular basis, to live lives free from the fear of having to choose between food or other basic essentials, and ultimately, to live lives free from poverty.

Over the next 5-10 years, our goal is to support the development of a national network of Local Pantries, building dignity, choice and hope for thousands of Pantry members across the country.  Local Pantries can be a key component in rebuilding communities and neighbourhoods, and ultimately a more powerful voice for communities who are too frequently overlooked, neglected, or worse still stigmatised and blamed for society’s ills.

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