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Foodraising Lockdown produces its own 'self raising' through Bread For Sheffield initiative

Volunteer project takes off across the city.

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A Bread For Sheffield volunteer.

Since March the community response to Covid-19 across Sheffield has seen some amazing acts of kindness and enterprising new initiatives. Mutual Aid groups have sprung up across the city to help those who need support in the community as they self isolate, experience financial difficulties or just need someone to talk to.

Faced with a shortage of flour one of the volunteers involved in the S11 Mutual Aid group, local resident Joanne Chapman decided to buy flour bought from local wholesalers Hukins and make it available to local people through the Covid Mutual Aid website. Using containers from her previous ice cream business, Joanne started selling the flour at cost price but asked people to make a donation to the local food bank.

Within the first week it was clear that there was a huge demand and a willingness to donate - in one case, a donation of £50 for just a few kilos. By the second week, a second collection point was needed and Esra Osgerby volunteered to pack and distribute from her home in Whirlow.

By the third week over £1,250 had been raised for the food bank but it was evident that selling flour from the two houses was no longer feasible, from a health and safety aspect but also due to the need to put the initiative onto a more sustainable footing.

It was obvious that as a business model Bread For Sheffield was proving surprisingly successful. During lockdown people have been baking more despite the flour shortages, perhaps even creating the shortages. People are also aware that there are those across the city who are particularly economically vulnerable at the moment and are more willing to support a food bank. The other key to the initiative's success has been the fact that most people could collect quickly from a collection point without the hassle of supermarket safety issues or queuing.

Joanne was keen to see if S2 Food Bank wanted to take on the initiative themselves, but they in turn realised that they had no capacity and the suggestion was made via Voluntary Action Sheffield to approach Sheffield Business Together. It was through them that a suggestion was made to involve St Mary's Community Centre, a local social enterprise already supplying food and hot meals to those in need. The location of St Mary's on the inner ring road, as well as its large kitchen and existing bank of volunteers, meant that they could take over the operation easily.

Currently St Mary's are taking orders through the website, packing the flour and using Joanne and friends to distribute around the communities of Bents Green, Banner Cross and Greystones. The flour is still sold at cost price with a strong emphasis on making a donation. Encouragingly this is now part of most customers' purchasing process.

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The Mutual Aid network is still being used to advertise the flour sales, a rich and active network across the city and one very much at the heart of community activity during coronavirus.

Going forwards, St Mary's hopes to be able to grow the business. Money raised at the moment is being split between St Mary's and S2 Food Bank but, given the recent economic downturn, it's obvious that both charities need more funds. At the moment the flour is only being sold through contacts in specific parts of S11. This now needs to extend to Nether Edge, Broomhill, Broomhall and other neighbouring areas.

The long-term aim is to ensure that people continue to buy their flour through St Mary's. Not only does this give the social enterprise an opportunity to inform people about St Mary's and the S2 Food Bank, but also the chance to show what can happen if you miss out the middleman. The flour comes straight from Bradshaw's in Driffield, where it is milled to order. The local community of bakers are so pleased with it that they're buying more than they ever did when it was readily available in supermarkets.

At the heart of Bread For Sheffield has been the desire to raise funds for much-needed Sheffield charities working on the frontline during the Covid-19 crisis. But the potential for rethinking food procurement and distribution networks in Sheffield, and how we can harness that for the greater social good, is also embedded in this project.

It would be nice to think in a few years time there is a loaf of Bread For Sheffield in all the city's kitchens - and that it gives encouragement for similar ventures to flourish.

Share your #foodraising stories with us on foodraising@weareopus.org.

Filed under: Foodraising #Coronavirus

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