At Hubbub, we've hit a bittersweet milestone: one million meals’ worth of quality surplus food shared through Food Connect, our community-based, zero emissions food redistribution service. The environmental and social impact of Food Connect has far surpassed our expectations, though it also highlights growing pressure on people to get the food they need. We've learned a lot from investing in these innovative, community-based solutions, and have drawn four lessons for businesses below.

The latest figures from WRAP show that charities handled six times more surplus food in 2021 than in 2015, and are now responsible for 69% of all redistribution - up from 40% over the last six years. Food Connect was set up to try to tackle one of the trickiest parts of the puzzle: the last mile. There's plenty of surplus available from supermarkets and other businesses but the food is close to its end of life and small voluntary organisations often struggle to offer reliable collections. Our professional drivers and small fleet of electric vehicles offer a solution. Since launching in mid-2020 we're proud to have shared 434 tonnes of good quality food with people in Milton Keynes and South London. As a result of Food Connect, that food has been shared with residents to take home rather than going to waste, and used for things like family cooking classes, social cafes and even to support recently settled Ukrainian refugees.

However, it's clear from the rise in demand across the Community Fridge Network that incomes are not covering many households' basic needs. This growing cost-of-living crisis puts ever more pressure on community groups. These groups are incredibly adaptive and resilient, but they're often hamstrung by financial insecurity and wholly reliant on volunteers.

If this cloud has a silver lining, it's that we're seeing more and more businesses looking to support the communities they operate in. Virgin Media O2's support of The Tech Lending Fund and Co-op's ongoing commitment to the Community Fridge Network are two examples we're proud to be part of. But working with community groups can require a change of mindset for large businesses. Here are four things we've learned over the last couple of years that might help guide businesses' thinking on this topic:

1) Communities know best

Communities know their own needs best, so start with them. Ask what would help them thrive and deliver for their area. This requires a shift from thinking about people as customers or beneficiaries to being active collaborators and participants. Food Connect began with a community consultation.

2) Make funding accessible 

Community groups need long-term investment to really serve their community but may not have the resources to navigate complex funding mechanisms. Businesses can help by making sure funding opportunities are simple and flexible, and that there's someone people can talk to about their application.

3) Invest in jobs 

Look for opportunities to invest in community jobs that can bring consistency to local groups, help them plan and manage limited resources, and reduce over reliance on volunteers. Food Connect employs teams of couriers and has helped people to enter work for the first time, or return after a long break. This approach is as much of an investment in the communities as the provision of vans and e-bikes.

4) More volunteers might not be the answer

Businesses often give their employees volunteering days, and well-structured volunteer programmes can have great impact. But for small community groups, an influx of temporary volunteers is often a cost rather than a benefit. If you're looking into local volunteering, consider offering a donation to go alongside your colleagues' time. (If in doubt, see point 1: ask what the group needs most!).

We're looking to expand Food Connect to new areas, and to support communities making environmental change with social impact across the UK. If you're curious about how you might get involved, then please get in touch.

Want to know more about Food Connect? 

You can read the 2022 Food Connect Report below, to learn more about how it works, the impact we've had, and stories from the communities. 

READ FOOD CONNECT REPORT

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