Woodlands Local Food Social Support Hubs

Woodland’s Community Garden is a community growing initiative based in a former derelict gap site to the west of Glasgow’s city centre. The organisation runs a range of social, cultural and environmental activities aimed at providing educational and creative opportunities to connect with the natural world and with food growing. The Local Food Social Support Hubs have been running since January 2014, with funding from the Big Lottery Fund’s Support and Connect programme. Described and promoted as pop-up community cafes, these sessions run weekly on a Monday evening in a nearby community centre in the Maryhill area, provided free of charge by the local housing association. Free vegetarian meals are provided and the project aims to create a friendly, inclusive and welcoming atmosphere. The meals are prepared by two part-time members of staff, along with a team of volunteers – some of whom became interested in volunteering after coming along to eat at the cafe. The project now provides copies of the recipes for the meals which are cooked each week so that people can take them away to try at home. There has also been a growing interest among participants in cookery classes which are run occasionally to help people develop skills and confidence to prepare the sorts of meals which are provided at the café. On average over 25 people are now attending the café each week.

One participant spoke about their appreciation of the quality of the food available, suggesting the importance of recognising the need and desire of people in complex circumstances to eat well: “I like coming here because I can eat healthy, I eat healthy. Even though I was daein what I was daein I still ate healthy. I still tried to look after myself as well, even though I was struggling”.

The community café project also aims to help bring people and key support organisations together and improve access to information and advice. Once a month an advisor based at Maryhill Citizens Advice Bureau attends the café where she is available for informal conversation, from which an appointment at the CAB can be arranged, or someone can be sign-posted elsewhere if appropriate. Information leaflets are available on a table for people to take away. These include information about appealing benefits decisions, where to access support with financial issues, and other local services. The project works in close partnership with a number of local organisations including Flourish House (a mental health charity), Maryhill Integration Network, Queens Cross Housing Association, Big Issue Glasgow and the Unity Centre.

Each week everyone who attends the café is asked to complete a feedback form. Participants are asked to make recommendations on how things could be improved, and also about how they found out about the project and why they have come. In analysis of 177 responses, the project found 50% of people came for the food, with 41% of those interested in food as a necessity for example stating that they were hungry and had no money. Social isolation is another important reason people come to the café, with 31% motivated by loneliness or a desire to meet new people.

A participant at the community café contrasted the experience with that of going to other services which provide free food: “I dinnae like going to some of the places cos it can be like a soup kitchen… It’s charity. You know what I mean, you didn’t feel right going there. Like you were begging for food, that’s what it felt like, you know, I mean it doesnae feel like that here. But going to the soup kitchen, it feels degrading”.

This example from the Woodlands Local Food and Social Hubs suggests some ways in which providing food to people in need can be an act of social justice rather than charity: serving quality, nutritious food in a welcoming and comfortable environment; treating people with respect and dignity; providing access to welfare rights and other information and advice; and creating opportunities for people to get involved.