Norwich enterprise fighting hunger and homelessness with skills training
- Credit: Jamie Burgess
The Feed is a social enterprise based in Norwich with an appetite for motivating change. As part of the East of England Co-op's #EastTogether campaign, Charles Bliss spoke to chief executive Lucy Parish about how practical training and work experience can help prevent poverty, hunger and homelessness in Norfolk.
Food injustice, homelessness and unemployment are endemic in our society – three issues that have been exacerbated by the pandemic. But an ambitious social enterprise in Norwich is setting out to eradicate all three.
“The Feed is a social enterprise with a mission to motivate change to prevent poverty, hunger and homelessness in Norwich,” says chief executive Lucy Parish. “We support people facing housing insecurity or barriers to employment, including those with mental health conditions, learning difficulties, previous substance misuse and history of offending.”
Established in 2015, The Feed was born out of a National Lottery Community Fund project called Leap, which offered access to training, employment and housing in the region. When funding ended for Leap, The Feed established an independent catering business and stall in Norwich Market offering work experience and employability training programmes.
After a successful crowdfunding campaign, a community café was opened on Prince of Wales Road in November 2019.
“The Feed Café is a community hub,” Lucy says. “It is a place where people feel welcome and purposeful, but that also serves delicious, homemade food which is either locally sourced or sourced from other social enterprises. For example, the tea we stock – Nemi Teas – helps support refugees to enter the UK workforce.”
Revenue from the café and catering enterprise funds The Feed’s employability projects, which involve one-to-one support and training that empowers clients to make positive and lasting changes.
“These projects are designed to teach practical skills, build confidence and develop healthy routines so that clients are motivated to move forward into employment,” Lucy explains.
An exciting collaboration with mental health charity Norfolk and Waveney Mind is due to launch in Churchman House at 71 Ber Street (formerly 68 St Giles Street) this summer. “It will be a mental health centre with a café providing additional work experience for our clients,” says Lucy.
The Feed also runs a community fridge that provided nourishment for 420 people in January alone.
“Initially, the community fridge was put in place to ensure that the people we support have access to food,” Lucy explains. “However, in response to the pandemic we have expanded its scope, so although the café and catering business are closed during lockdown, the community fridge is open Monday to Friday from 2pm to 4pm for those facing food insecurity.”
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Lucy emphasises that it is a relaxed and non-judgemental environment, with no referral needed. “We have a huge fridge-freezer and shelves that are always fully stocked. Please come and help yourself.”
As the pandemic hit, The Feed adapted its services to provide more than 4,500 food parcels to rough sleepers in emergency accommodation as part of the government’s Everyone In policy.
Lucy was also a speaker at the East of England Co-op's Food Justice Conference in November 2020, an online event intended to raise awareness and generate solutions to the deepening issue of UK food poverty. She emphasises that the aim of The Feed is to stamp out issues of hunger and homelessness – not just dampen the flames.
“We are supporting people now who never expected to have to rely on facilities like a community fridge,” Lucy says. “But the work we do isn't just about giving food: our mission is to prevent poverty, hunger and homelessness.
“Food provision is not a long-term solution to food poverty. In the short term we are providing food, but it is important for us to signpost people to other support services, including our own employability services, to help people out of food insecurity in the long term.”
Lucy says that the public can help The Feed provide support by dropping off food donations to their facility on Prince of Wales Road, but the most important thing is to make conscious consumer choices as we emerge from the pandemic.
“We all need to think much more carefully about how we are spending our money,” Lucy says. “During the coming months, there are going to be small businesses, charities and social businesses like ours that are trying to rebuild after this situation.
“Ask yourself: where can I spend my money that is going to make a difference?”
For more information or to make a donation, please visit www.thefeed.org.uk
Watch more episodes from the #EastTogether series at www.eastofengland.coop/easttogether