From the outset, food and community resilience were recognised as priorities. The lockdown, brought a number of complex issues that had to be tackled quickly and effectively. From the food shortages to people self-isolating due to symptoms or underlying health conditions, loss of income due to businesses closing and the closure of schools and access to free school meals, all of these factors, and more, meant that thousands of people across East Ayrshire were now vulnerable.
The introduction of social distancing guidelines meant that new ways of working would be required as it became clear that initial plans to address these issues, including bringing children into school for a meal or utilising existing food banks and food larders, would no longer be appropriate.
A new process was developed to help people affected by the lockdown and the impact of Covid-19, apply for emergency meals. The Council’s Catering Services are working from 18 centralised production kitchens, preparing meals and organising home deliveries. Staff have been working in small teams on a rota basis to ensure effective food safety, physical distancing and health and safety arrangements are all in place.
The number of meals being produced daily by the team has increased from 2200 on Monday 23 March to over 6900 this week. With support from 60 colleagues across the Council, they are now delivering 30,000 each week. The meals are a combination of hot/chilled meals, packed lunches and grocery packs. Healthy eating and the provision of balanced meals remains a priority and the Council has continued to support local food suppliers throughout.
The Catering Team is working closely with colleagues from Education, Housing and Communities and partners organisations to ensure that all children entitled to a free school meal, and their families, are continuing to receive food during this time. Deliveries continued over the Easter holidays, the Easter bank holiday weekend and the May public holiday to ensure that people continued to have access to food.
Working with East Ayrshire’s Dignified Food Group, which was established with key partners including community organisations and FareShare, the UK’s national network of charitable food redistributors, as part of local Brexit planning; Catering Services and Vibrant Communities have recently enhanced community larders established by the group.
FareShare, with funding from the Scottish Government, have been delivering 1100kg of food per week to East Ayrshire Council during lockdown, and the Catering Service helps to distribute this to 12 community larders across East Ayrshire. FareShare supplies are supplemented by the Council and by the larders themselves, providing support to over 1000 people each week.
Community Resilience Hubs have also been established by Vibrant Communities in partnership with over 90 community groups. The hubs coordinate volunteering opportunities and tailor support to local needs. Vibrant Communities have connected with local organisations and over 1000 volunteers to provide support to communities, including befriending, prescription delivery, financial support, grocery shopping and food provision.
Through the local resilience network, the Council has distributed in the region of £116,000 to support 38 groups providing emergency and supplementary food support, befriending and helping with shopping. Many local suppliers and businesses have donated food including Lochside Hotel, Ayrshire College and Brownings the Bakers; while the charitable organisation Magic Breakfast has continued to provide breakfasts to 85 children and young people who attend St Joseph’s Academy and Park School.
This localised, community approach has provided support to over 7000 people who may have lost their jobs, be self-isolating or shielding during lockdown.
Councillor Douglas Reid, Leader of the Council said: “The impact of Covid-19 on our lives is far-reaching. For the 4700 people in our communities who have been asked by the Scottish Government to shield for 12 weeks, the impact is really significant. We recognised this and quickly introduced a range of measures, in partnership with the Government and the local community, to ensure that they were supported fully and could continue to receive food and medicine.
“Teams from across the Council have joined together to provide support to our communities seven days a week, be it food, medicine or making a welfare call to someone living on their own.
“Some people may be experiencing financial difficulties for the very first time and others have become more vulnerable as a consequence of Covid-19. Together with our partners, we are continuing to support local families and individuals who have been financially affected by the closure of businesses or who rely on free school meals for their children.
“People young and old alike are experiencing isolation - isolated from friends and families and this makes them vulnerable. Vulnerable to hunger, to loneliness and feelings of fear. With help from our partners, local businesses and local community groups, we have helped to coordinate 1000 volunteers who have stepped up to support others.
“From food provision, collecting and delivering prescriptions, doing shopping and even calling people for a chat, we have mobilised quickly and effectively to help the most vulnerable in our communities.
“This work is set to continue for months to come as the lockdown is gradually eased. We are working very closely with the Scottish Government and appreciate the financial support we have received to deliver the addition meals and food to our communities to date. We all recognise the significance of the lockdown and the importance to stay home, protect the NHS and save lives and we also recognise our responsibility to protect and care for the most vulnerable people at this time.”
Individuals and families have appreciated the support provided by the Council and community groups and their positive feedback has been a tonic during these difficult times. A small child dressed as Spiderman shouted his thanks to one of our food delivery drivers, making his day. Feedback including ‘Don’t know what we would do without you all’ and ‘You are fantastic and are certainly helping myself and my family through a very difficult time’ has underlined the crucial work being undertaken across East Ayrshire.