Preserving dignity looks like it is being built into the design Scotland’s new social security system. It’s also the phrase that was at the heart of work undertaken by the Poverty Truth Commission and Nourish Scotland on the community provision of food. Consideration of how something might impact on a person’s dignity, could really transform the way we think about the delivery of public services. Here’s a great example of a community project in Aberdeen which tackles food poverty but always with a keen eye on preserving the dignity of those they serve.
A basket full of high-quality food for £2.50 may seem too good to be true – but that’s now the reality for shoppers at Scotland’s first food pantry.
The Woodside Pantry in Aberdeen provides people living in one of the city’s most disadvantaged areas a way to shop for a lot less.
It is an innovative, community-run project. The aim is to combat food poverty, and it has been hailed as a sustainable alternative to food bank use.
“I can get some really good healthy food at a very reasonable price”
For a small weekly charge, members get access to food donated by supermarkets and a local charity. Clare Whyte, one of the workers at the community centre where the pantry is based, told BBC Scotland’s The Nine: “Food banks are not a long-term solution. It’s an emergency food service, really.
“This could be a way to reduce food waste which is massive and a huge issue as we know and also tackle food poverty at the same time.
Food parcels from food banks are often only available to people who have been referred by frontline professionals like GPs or advice agencies. But membership of the Woodside Pantry was initially open to anyone living in the immediate area around the Fersands and Fountain Community Centre, where the project is based. It proved so popular that the catchment area has now been widened and the membership cap extended. Almost half of the people using the service receive benefits or Jobseeker’s Allowance. A quarter of the users are single parents. There are now 83 households with membership to the pantry, and more than 200 local residents – including children – are directly benefitting.
“I can get some very good, healthy food at a very reasonable price,” said Margaret Aisbitt, who was one of the first to sign up.
More than 200 residents of the Woodside area of Aberdeen are already benefitting from the pantry She said she is more than happy to pay the membership fee of £3, and the weekly charge of £2.50.
‘More dignified provision’
She explained: “The range varies because it’s all donated, so you’re not sure what you’re going to get. “Today I picked up a lovely piece of venison, some nice apple juice, something for my store cupboard, and mushrooms.”
All of the food in the Woodside Pantry is donated via supermarkets or through food-distribution charity Fareshare Grampian, operated by Community Food Initiatives North East (CFINE). Some of the donations are often close to their “best before date”, as supermarkets try to clear their shelves for a new batch of produce. Unlike food banks where people are given pre-made food parcels, the pantry sees users pick their own items from the shelves.
“We think the pantry model is one which is a much more dignified provision,” said Dave Kilgour, a development manager at CFINE.
He said he has seen an increase in the amount of people in Aberdeen who have been dependent on emergency food supplies. “Because of the massive increase in terms of people who are having to come to food banks we need to look at more alternative models, particularly those which have a bit more dignity and respect.”
The Woodside Pantry is open on a Tuesday and a Thursday for a limited number of hours. It is run by volunteers, who are also local and users of the service. After the success of this pilot, the founders are planning more pantries across Aberdeen
One user concluded: “It’s such a good thing, it should definitely be all over Scotland. People would benefit so much from it.”