In the first of a new blog series highlighting positive work to address the Commission’s actions, Brenda Black of Edinburgh Community Food looks at an aspect of food insecurity.

For four years, Edinburgh Community Food (ECF) has partnered with City of Edinburgh Council (CEC) and others every school holiday to deliver Discover!, Edinburgh’s programme to tackle ‘holiday hunger’.

Families who need help are referred through their children’s schools and receive a weekly food box of fresh seasonal produce, cooking equipment, recipe cards, health information and associated extras/activities, such as seeds and growing packs, children’s books and activity/sports packs, ‘treats’ (eg, matching lunchboxes, placemats & drinks cups), etc.  Since the pandemic, we have gone ‘digital’ and families join a closed FaceBook group and have access to our YouTube channel, where they view live videos, including cook-alongs based on the box contents, story-telling, dancing, music, astronomy and crafts.  Families can follow along in real time or watch later.  Whilst we initially expected the group to be mostly ‘one way’ information from programme staff, we have been delighted to find families have embraced the format and used it to share photos of dishes they have made and also support each other, creating their own thriving online community which continues through term time.

The Covid-19 crisis has really put pressure on families who are already struggling financially and this project has supported them at this extremely difficult time, providing healthy food and opportunities to bond in a fun and dignified context.  This Easter, we supported 325 families and feedback has been very positive:  whilst the focus is on the kids, 90% of parents involved experienced improved relationships with their children; indeed, many families cooked together for the first time ever.

“Gave us a focus during the day which we otherwise wouldn’t have, cooked together, exercised together and I know that wouldn’t have happened without this as we scheduled our days around it. Helped me massively with my anxiety of having the kids all holidays so thank you.”

Some of the Discover! Facilitators

Surprising outcomes included the provision of daily structure and routine to mealtimes, which was largely lost during lockdown.  Families posted pictures and videos of themselves working together to prepare and cook meals, sharing their successes and the ‘looks terrible but tastes great!’ efforts, which helped everyone feel more confident about their ability and increased both the willingness to try new recipes and the sharing of the results.

“The food boxes were amazing! The content surpassed my expectations and made everything so easy. I had to shield myself and my son during lockdown and getting out and about isn’t always easy anyway, so having everything we needed to participate was the most thoughtful thing anyone could do for us. I’m emotional as I type this as it was incredible and we appreciated it very much.”

The benefits of Discover! are not only felt by the families: the ECF and Life-long Learning teams have been overwhelmed by the reactions of many of the families and felt the programme provided them with a sense of pride about their work during lockdown, and I personally have loved to follow – and occasionally join in with – the cooking, music and dance sessions.  I just hope no-one was watching… [We have it all on camera – Ed.]

Discover! page – recipe and cooking video resource for families
Uploaded family photos. Some of the thousands…

Brenda Black, Chief Executive Officer, Edinburgh Community Food