This is not an exhaustive list but summarises several different models of community food projects which are operating in the UK. Organisations may run more than one of these at once, and they may be part of a wider organisation whose primary work is not food related.


Food bank/emergency food aid provider

Approach: A food bank or emergency food aid provider is a place where stocks of food, typically non-perishable items such as tins and packets, are supplied free of charge to people in financial hardship. Some may have provision of fresh or refrigerated food. Some may also offer refreshments and a social space. They may be linked to another organisation (often a place of worship or community setting).

Food supply is mainly from donations and surplus food, additional food may be purchased to top up supplies (for more information on source of food for projects see Food Supply section).

Food banks are managed in a variety of ways. For some referrals are not necessary and they are open to anyone that comes and asks to use the service. Others are by referral only, with referrals typically made by organisations such as healthcare providers, social workers, advice services and other local support organisations. The food bank may also generate their own referrals. Some use a referral system which offers a maximum number of times a person can access the service. They often refer on to other support organisations and may have wraparound support available alongside the food bank.

Typical Purpose: Preventing hunger in a crisis. It may also be to support people out of poverty more broadly and refer people to long term-support.

Outputs and outcomes that can be measured: Access numbers, demographics, impact (short and long term), amount of surplus diverted, volunteer - hours, training and development & progression, case studies, onward referrals.

Business Model: They are often led by and reliant on volunteers but may have some staff members. Food banks are usually funded through donations or via a host organisation, and sometimes commissioned. The main networks of food banks in the UK are the Trussell Trust and the Independent Food Aid Network.

Advantages:

  • They often have links to statutory and voluntary referral agencies and the ability to refer people to relevant services and wraparound support, which may help people address the root causes of food insecurity.
  • They may provide services which address other issues e.g. social isolation, cooking skills, volunteering opportunities.
  • They may be more financially sustainable if the food bank is not the primary activity of the organisation but subsidized by other work.
  • They can link up to national networks which offer support and may provide access to central management,  systems, and campaigning capacity.
  • Historically they have been effective at sourcing food and financial donations.
  • They offer a lifeline for people in crisis.

Disadvantages:

  • They are not a solution to food poverty, but a short-term solution to hunger.
  • They typically offer limited fresh food, and may struggle to provide a healthy, balanced parcel of food. This is particularly an issue if people are reliant on them for a long time.
  • They may not have the capacity to provide culturally appropriate food or meet dietary needs for those with medical conditions.
  • The huge rise in numbers of food banks has meant an increase in competition for donations and funding.
  • They may experience issues with volunteer burnout coping with high levels of need.
  • They do not generate any income, meaning complete reliance on funding and donations.

Community Fridge

Approach: A community fridge is a refrigerator (colloquially "fridge") located in a public space. Sometimes called ‘freedges’, they are a type of mutual aid project that enables food to be shared within a community. The main source of food is surplus food, from redistributors such as Fareshare, as well as local retailers such as supermarkets or independent shops.

Unlike traditional community supermarkets or pantries, these grassroots projects encourage anyone to put food in and take food out without limit, helping to remove the stigma from its use.

Typical Purpose: Making surplus food accessible to the community to reduce food being wasted. May also aim to reduce food insecurity in the community.

Outputs and outcomes that can be measured: Amount of surplus diverted from waste, number of members.

Business Model: Food supply is surplus food and donations. They are low cost to establish, but usually require some funding to start off. They are reliant on volunteers and community members to run. They may be part of a network e.g. Hubbub .

Advantages:

  • They are open to everyone
  • They prevent food being wasted
  • They support people that may be food insecure
  • They may bring the community together

Disadvantages:

  • Risks about food safety
  • Usually reliant on volunteers
  • Usually reliant on funding, not income generating
  • Require a permanent space for the fridge

Food Pantry/social supermarket

Approach: Food pantries, also known as social supermarkets or community shops, usually operate using a membership model. Members typically pay a small amount of money each week as a membership fee, for a basket of food including fresh produce. In some cases, additional items such as eggs may be available for an additional cost, which is usually lower than standard retail price. Some offer solidarity prices with mixed membership costs.

Pantries are generally set up to look like a shop, and members can usually choose the products they want, although there may be limits on how much of certain items they can choose e.g. for a £3 membership fee members may be able to choose 10 items. Members have opportunities to provide feedback and shape how the pantry is run and the products available. Some accept Healthy Start as payment, or other schemes such as Alexandra Rose vouchers.

Surplus food is usually a significant source of food supply, from providers such as Fareshare and the Felix project, pantries may also receive donations, and may purchase food from a variety of settings, sometimes this is negotiated at a reduced price.

Pantries usually require volunteers to run and may have some staff.

They are often set within a larger organisation, and may offer additional support services and/or signposting e.g. for benefits advice.

Typical Purpose: Supporting people experiencing food insecurity, usually with a wider goal of providing or referring to additional support to help people move out of poverty. Some also have an environmental purpose in avoiding surplus food being wasted, and may have additional purposes around food skills such as cooking lessons, and community togetherness such as hosting community meals and events.

Outputs and outcomes that can be measured: Access numbers, demographics, impact (short and long term), amount of surplus diverted, volunteer - hours, training and development & progression, behaviour change around diet, Healthy Start uptake, community capital, case studies, referrals to wraparound support.

For more information see our case studies on Stafford Hall Pantry, St Andrew’s Network, Cook for Good and BrightStore Whitehawk .

Business Model: The majority of funding is usually from grants, with a small income from the membership model which may cover food costs, but typically do not cover staff costs. Mixed membership or solidarity payment models may go further towards covering staff costs. They are typically led by or heavily reliant on volunteers. They are often linked to an existing organization e.g. a church, community centre, or charity.

Membership may be unlimited or may be valid for a set period e.g. 6 months.

For more information see:

Advantages:

  • Generally described as more dignified than food banks, as members pay to have a stake, and choose their items.
  • Membership provides opportunities for longer term impact through partnerships and support services linked to the pantry.
  • Some income from membership fees means less reliance on donations and funding, although they may still be reliant on grant funding for staff costs.
  • Provision of fresh food means a healthier range of food items can be provided e.g. fresh fruit and vegetables, fresh meat and fish.
  • Works well as a project within a larger organisation, and links well with wraparound support.
  • Can be led by members.

Disadvantages:

  • The income generated does not usually cover all costs, making the model not sustainable financially unless other sources of income can be used to subsidise the pantry.
  • Usually requires refrigeration facilities.
  • Numbers that can use the pantry are limited by space, staff and volunteer capacity, funding etc.
  • Often reliant on surplus food which can be inappropriate and insufficient.
  • Can be over reliant on volunteers, which may experience burnout.
  • A form of charitable food aid, which may feel undignified to members.

Food cooperative (small buying group)

Approach: There are different forms of coops, including shops, growers, and consumer clubs, with several following the Cooperation Town small buying group model and being part of their network. Typically these contain around 20 local households but this can vary.

Food cooperatives (coops) small buying groups are collective buying groups that come together to purchase food and other essentials at wholesale prices to save money on groceries.

Some have different membership categories, and members that volunteer for particular tasks may receive further price reductions. Some accept Healthy Start payment.

Food supply comes from bulk buying at wholesale prices, and surplus food from redistribution charities and local retailers.

Members generally pay set membership fees, decide collectively what to buy, and share the food fairly. This results in food costs which are below retail price, with members saving significantly on their weekly shop. The processes for running the coop and the division of labour are decided democratically.

Some operate via a mixed economy model (different membership levels pay different prices).

Typical Purpose:  Access to good quality food below retail prices. As part of the cooperative movement, they follow the 7 cooperative principles. Cooperatives are democratic organisations controlled by their members with decisions made jointly. They may have additional joint aims such as focussing on planet-friendly food and or healthy food.

Outputs and outcomes that can be measured: Access numbers, demographics, number of sales, number of jobs created, Support to primary or local producers, impact, short and long term, amount of surplus diverted, volunteer hours, training and development & progression, behaviour change around diet, Healthy Start uptake, case studies.

Business Model: Not-for-profit groups where all income from membership fees is used for the coop. They are not charities, but could be registered as a cooperative or a limited company, but likely to have limited liability. They are not reliant on funding as the membership fees pay for the food.

For more information see:

Advantages:

  • A coop can be set up anywhere where there is a temporary space available once a week.
  • They may provide additional benefits around community support and organizing.
  • Membership led and democratic.
  • Support is available from the cooperative town network.
  • They can provide a wide range of healthy foods at affordable prices.
  • Based on a financially sustainable model

Disadvantages:

  • The model is more effective if a ‘hub’ is available, allowing storage food and accepting food in larger quantities, which saves money – not all coops have access to a hub.
  • May take a long time or establish or struggle to get buy in.

Wholesale purchasing/ co-operative buying (larger scale)

Approach: There are many different forms of co-ops, usually abiding to the same 7 principles (see above). These can be run by the customers and can have different membership categories.

Some operate on a larger scale e.g. a shop, using a mixed economy model (mixed membership model allows for different pricing) and members may be able to volunteer and receive further price reductions, e.g. The London Food Coop.

Due to a decline in donations and available food surplus, and an increase in need for services, many community food projects are spending large amounts of money in supermarkets. To combat this, some community food projects in the same geographical area and/or within a food network have come together to use their collective buying power to access wholesale food at a reduced price (see Food Supply section for more information.)

Typical Purpose: Access to good quality food below retail prices.

Outputs and outcomes that can be measured: Access numbers, demographics, number of sales, number of jobs created, support to primary or local producers, impact, short and long term, amount of surplus diverted, volunteer hours, training and development & progression, behaviour change around diet, Healthy Start uptake, case studies

Business Model: Income generating trading model. They could be registered as cooperative or a limited company but likely to have limited liability.

Advantages:

  • Membership led
  • Can provide a wide range of healthier foods
  • May accept Healthy Start
  • Based on a financially sustainable model
  • Volunteer opportunities

Disadvantages:

  • May take a long time to establish
  • Need to recruit a large number of members for financial sustainability
  • Needs large numbers of members/customers to be viable
  • Needs to access to a mixed market of members/customers

Street trading

Approach: Street trading takes many forms, could retail a range of items, and could include hospitality. Food supply could come from wholesale purchasing project, surplus food, or other sources. They are typically run outside e.g. in a street market or car park. They can operate in a range of locations and be mobile. They typically require transport, but this is not always the case. They can be run solely by volunteers or by employed staff. They may provide opportunities such as education and employability.

Some accept Healthy Start and/or Alexandra Rose vouchers.

They may also work with local social landlords and/or the council to identify areas to operate in which are food deserts.

Typical Purpose:  Improve access to affordable food, likely links to healthier food and possible sustainable procurement.

Outputs and outcomes that can be measured: Access numbers, number of sales, number of jobs created, support to primary or local producers, impact on local area short and long term, Amount of surplus diverted, volunteer hours, training and development & progression, social capital, Healthy Start uptake, case studies.

See our case study on Queen of Greens for an example.

Business Model: Income generating trading model with a flexible legal structure.

Advantages:

  • Startup costs may be lower than in a retail premises.
  • Can be a financially sustainable model due to income generation.
  • Volunteer, education and employability opportunities may be part of the model.
  • May be more accessible to people, particularly if mobile.

Disadvantages:

  • May be weather dependent.
  • Requires a location with footfall.
  • May require a license.
  • Usually requires initial investments.
  • May require staff that can drive.
  • Margins may be a tight balance with cost of produce and affordability for customers.

Community meals or community café

Approach: Free, usually freshly cooked meals are provided to the community and shared together. These are usually open and welcoming to all members of the community, but may aim to support a particular group e.g. older people, LGBTQ+ community, people seeking asylum.

In some cases, meals are provided on a ‘pay-as-you-feel’ or ‘pay as you can’ model, with some people paying a solidarity amount and others not. They are held in a community setting with a kitchen space and dining area for sharing the meal. The main source of food is usually surplus food, with some additional food purchased.

They food is usually cooked by volunteers, who may choose what they wish to cook. They can incorporate education and employability training to volunteers. Usually, a staff member with food safety training will oversee the cooking, as environmental health regulations must be followed. Other support services may be present e.g. wraparound support.

Typical Purpose: Addressing social isolation and food insecurity and promoting wellbeing. They may also aim to tackle food waste by using surplus, and health issues by providing nourishing meals.

Outputs and outcomes that can be measured: Access numbers, demographics, impact short and long term, amount of surplus diverted, volunteer hours, training and development & progression, behaviour change around diet, number of referrals, number signposted, social capital, case studies.

For examples see:

Business Model: Typically funded by commissioner or a grant provider, not usually income generating. For those with a mixed payment model, any income goes back into the running of the project. They are often part of an existing organization and not a standalone project.

Advantages:

  • Addresses social isolation.
  • Provision of nutritious meals to the community.
  • Can be mobile or fixed location.
  • Volunteer, education and employability opportunities.
  • Link well with wraparound support services.

Disadvantages:

  • Usually not financially sustainable alone as generate no or limited income, therefore reliant on funding.
  • Reliance on surplus food.
  • Requires premises with a kitchen to operate.
  • Reliance of volunteers to operate.

Mixed retail / hospitality model

Approach: These usually have different tiered pricing or different services for different groups, e.g. they may have both members and public customers. This could be a shop with a membership for some people, allowing members a discount. It could also be a collection point. Some use surplus food and process it into products that sell for higher values to the general public or corporate clients e.g. jams and soups (see Cook for Good case study). They can accommodate community meals as well as operating a café space, or running a catering service, and may also hold pop-ups to sell products.

Typical Purpose: Improving access to food and achieving social benefit. They may also have specific goals around healthy and sustainable food, tackling food waste, and other areas such as reducing social isolation and improving skills and employability.

Outputs and outcomes that can be measured: Access numbers, membership model demographics, number of sales, number of jobs created, support to primary or local producers, impact short and long term, amount of surplus diverted, volunteer hours, training and development & progression, social capital, Healthy Start uptake, case studies.

Business Model: Income generating and grants. Likely to have limited liability, may operate as a social enterprise. They may offer volunteering or training opportunities.

Advantages:

  • This model works well with social investors including Housing Associations.
  • Can provide a wide range of healthier foods.
  • May promote uptake of Healthy Start.
  • Based on a financially sustainable model.
  • May provides volunteer, training and employability opportunities.

Disadvantages:

  • Needs large numbers of customers.
  • Needs access to a mixed market of different types of customers to operate.
  • Large capital & revenue investment required.
  • Premises needs to be large enough to accommodate enough customers.

Community vegetable box or vegbag

Approach: Subscription-based model providing a weekly supply of fresh vegetables and/or fruit, which improves the supply of fresh fruit and vegetables to people that have limited access. Usually, they accept and promote the Healthy Start Scheme and may accept other vouchers such as Alexandra Rose. May also work with local social landlords to identify areas to operate in which are food deserts. Many offer options depending on the size of the household and the preferred contents. Some offer additional items such as eggs. Some also prioritize providing agroecological/organic produce, and may prioritize locally grown produce, including from allotments.

Food supply is usually from wholesale markets and may include local farms or allotments. This is accessed by home delivery or pick up from a collection point.

Typical Purpose:  Improving access to fresh fruit and vegetables, particularly for people that are at risk of food insecurity, and/or living in areas with limited access to fresh produce.

Outputs and outcomes that can be measured: Number of customers, number paying with Healthy Start, volume of produce, short and long term impact, case studies.

For examples see:

Business Model: Paid subscriptions generate income. These may operate on a sliding scale membership/solidarity model. Additional income comes from Healthy Start. They may still require some funding for staff costs. They can also supply other clients such as corporates and universities at a higher price point, to generate additional income.

Advantages:

  • Improves access to fresh fruit and vegetables for the community.
  • Boxes are preordered which helps to avoid waste for overordering produce.
  • May improve Healthy Start uptake.
  • Model can be financially sustainable.

Disadvantages:

  • Margins may be small when balancing the cost of produce and affordability for clients.
  • Finding partner community organisations to support with collection points can be challenging.
  • Income may not cover all costs like staff, transport, vehicle insurance and storage facilities.  
  • People may cancel at short notice creating waste.
  • A Vegbag is prescriptive, and people don’t always want to take the listed produce, some would prefer to have more choice.

Community supported agriculture

Approach: Community supported agriculture (CSA) is a mutually beneficial partnership between farmers and community members, whereby members pay the farmer to receive regular access to fresh produce from the farm, and the farmer receives secure financial support. CSA creates a direct relationship between farmers and members, which can include additional benefits in addition to receiving food such as volunteering opportunities, farm visits and community events, and supports members to understand where their food comes from and how it is produced.

Typical purpose:  CSA allows the community to support local agriculture. It promotes sustainable farming practices, gives financial stability to farmers and gives customers access to fresh, seasonal produce.

Outputs and outcomes that can be measured: Number of subscriptions, value of subscriptions, feedback from members, case studies, volume of produce supplied to members, if applicable measures of environmental impact, short and long term impact measures.

For examples see: https://communitysupportedagriculture.org.uk/...

Business model: Members commit to pay a fixed-fee subscription, which could be seasonal or annual, with a local farm. The payment can be upfront or in instalments. The payments help the farm cover operational costs and mitigates the risks associated with agriculture, by having some reliable income. The members in return receive regular, fresh supplies of produce including fruit and vegetables, meat, fish, dairy, and in some cases other products such as flowers.

For more information see:


Cooked meal delivery services

Approach: May be part of a community café / meals service. Meals are cooked and packaged, and delivered to people in the home, or to other services that can provide them to people they support, e.g. charities. Meals are usually provided for free or at low cost.

The main food source is usually surplus food with some additional food purchased.

Provides volunteering opportunities and may provide education and employment opportunities.

Typical Purpose:  Reducing food insecurity by providing nourishing meals, may also include tackling food waste and malnutrition.

Outputs and outcomes that can be measured: Number of meals distributed, number of people provided with meals, quantity of surplus food prevented from waste, changes to diet, case studies.

Business Model: Usually commissioned or grant funded as this generates little to no income. In some cases, they are commissioned by the council for meals on wheels provision, holiday food programmes, or other local authority services. They could have sliding scale prices to deliver some meals at full cost and some at lower cost or free.

Advantages:

  • Provides nourishing meals to people that may have barriers to buying or preparing meals for themselves, with positive outcomes on wellbeing.
  • May provide volunteering, education, and employment opportunities.

Disadvantages:

  • Usually reliant on volunteers for preparing and delivering meals.
  • Meals need to be transported, requiring drivers, vehicles and fuel.
  • Usually non or minimally income generating so requires funding.
  • Can be challenging to meet a range of cultural and dietary preferences.
  • May struggle to communicate about the service to people that are isolated.

Good Food Enterprise: Working to provide food that is good for people and the planet, and support local production playing a part in community beyond trading.

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