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Peabody housing - Social Investment Case Study

From seed to plantling. Copyright: Akil Mazumder

From seed to plantling. Copyright: Akil Mazumder

A Q & A with Peabody

Peabody is one of the UK’s oldest not-for-profit housing associations. Today it has over 107,000 homes and 220,000 residents across London and the Home Counties and provides care and support services for around 17,500 customers.

As well as providing great homes and services, Peabody is driven by a core social purpose, to help people flourish. Through its Peabody Community Foundation and place based approach, it puts residents and communities firmly in the driving seat, working together with residents, partners and stakeholders to channel investment, skills and resources into its communities.

We spoke to Andrea Purslow, Peabody’s Head of Strategic Partnerships and Funding, who leads on food insecurity work at Peabody, to understand how and why they are investing in community food projects.

What does social investment mean to you and why is it important for housing associations to do?

We know the challenges faced by our communities aren’t going away. The perfect storm of a global pandemic, cost of living crisis, austerity and housing crisis, has exacerbated the complex issues already faced by many of our residents on a daily basis.

We want to invest in our communities and residents to build resilience, skills, resources, and act as an enabler to help people achieve their personal goals and ambitions. Building pathways to employment and good health and wellbeing is a key part and it is important for housing associations as anchor organisations to invest in this.

Community co-creation and partnership is central to Peabody’s approach. We listen to our residents and use our places, expertise, partners and access to funding to empower our residents, communities and grassroots organisations to deliver support based on local needs and lived experiences.

The Foundation has three key strands of focus: Healthier; supporting wellbeing, helping people to thrive physically, mentally and emotionally and live healthier lives; Wealthier; tackling poverty and inequality, supporting people to become financially resilient; Happier; helping people become active participants in their communities and feel more connected through local activities and programmes.

In line with our place based approach, we have moved to a highly localised model in five regions with 19 key areas and neighbourhoods. In each, we engage with our residents and the people who work in their communities, from the local authority to community projects and other strategic partners.

Why is Peabody investing in community food projects?

Food insecurity came firmly onto our radar during the COVID-19 lockdowns, when we prioritised getting emergency food to isolated people, and as part of this established relationships with FareShare and City Harvest.

As we developed these partnerships and saw rising need in our communities, we moved towards looking at tackling food poverty more generally and developing and growing our work in this area.

With the ongoing cost of living crisis there is a continued importance of working with communities to tackle this. We support a range of food insecurity projects from community pantries and fridges to holiday hunger programmes and community food enterprises, but these are projects delivered in silo. We are thinking strategically about how we can take a 'food plus' approach and develop sustainable relationships and projects.

Why is Peabody investing in projects outside the traditional food bank model?

We are interested in supporting sustainable food spaces and growing our portfolio of food related projects, this includes food banks but also pantries, social enterprises and other community food enterprises. Along with HACT and The Felix Project we founded the London Food Insecurity Network. With a collective vision for no social housing resident in London to go to bed hungry, the Network takes cross-sector collective action and a bold food plus approach to spark and influence long-term systems change.

There has been a big journey for us over last few years from providing emergency food parcels towards a broader strategic approach, which makes more effective use of our own resources to support communities, partnerships, sustainable models and grow support.

There has been a lot of interest in community food enterprises and we have made a conscious decision to move away from emergency provision; we aren’t a food bank, we signpost to them. Fundamental for us is building sustainable programmes and thinking about how can we resource and invest in them, developing strategic relationships to help give them the best chance of success. We want to show case social enterprises like Cook for Good and what is possible. Through the London Food Insecurity Network we are interested in how we, as a sector, can collaborate to join things up and make projects sustainable.

What impacts are you looking for?

Thriving community food enterprises which are sustainable in the long-term, being scaled and replicated and having a direct impact on communities.  But also, much broader impact. Projects can directly tackle the root causes of food insecurity by reducing social isolation and health inequalities,  supporting income maximisation and providing pathways into employment.

This all links back to our social mission to help people to flourish and live healthier, wealthier, and happier lives.

Are there any issues and challenges with social investment?

The biggest challenge is how to make projects sustainable. We know and see the strain many community projects and food banks are under with diminishing funding, and largely volunteer led teams, that makes it hard to run let alone develop and grow.

Our ambition is to take a food plus approach for projects. Cook for Good is a great example which is sustainable, and we wish to encourage growing, replication and scaling for successful models. We want to help smaller projects which might not have broader skills around communications and marketing to develop these and flourish.

What advice would you give to other housing associations interested in supporting community food enterprises?

To help give community food enterprises the best chance of success it’s really important that housing associations consider a range of factors. 

Firstly, research and consider the viability of the project. We know and understand our communities. Think about whether a community food enterprise model is the best approach based on local need and the local area. Explore what is already in place as knowing what is taking place and where, provides the foundations for place-based collaborations and greater social impact. 

It’s also really important to consider how the enterprise will involve the local community. The most successful enterprises have community members as part of their journey - community members can be recruited to take part in a volunteer programme which in turn provides valuable work experience and skills.  Another consideration is space – does the housing association have suitable disused space or could offer support through a social value lease?

Housing associations can also play a valuable role in terms of providing broader enterprise support, whether it is advisory support or mentoring – not all community organisations are risk ready. There may also be opportunities for enterprises to trade at events or with partners, giving enterprises sight of and access to procurement opportunities. Other consideration are whether there are opportunities to develop relationships with supply chain partners or providing support to access grant funding opportunities.

Finally, one model does not fit all. It’s really important to be prepared to pivot and innovate!

What would like to see in the future?

It would be wonderful if food insecurity wasn’t an issue and the need for food projects became a thing of the past. Peabody was established in 1862, and over 160 years later we are still tackling poverty and inequality. We know that by working collaboratively we can reduce food waste and poverty. Long term, through our Network we hope to support cross-sector collaboration providing space to innovate and influence for long-term systemic change.

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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