Lived Experience of Emergency & Community Food Provision in Edinburgh

Food insecurity is not a new issue in Edinburgh, nor the wider UK, and was evident before the COVID-19 pandemic. Worryingly, 7% of adults in the City of Edinburgh Council area were facing food insecurity (worried they would run out of food) between 2016-19.

Edinburgh Partnership committed to the development of a new strategy, setting out the responses needed to end poverty related hunger in Edinburgh. A vital step in developing this strategy is to understand and learn from people’s lived experiences.

We began the research process by conducting a rapid evidence review, which quickly familiarised us with the broader context of the work, the efforts of overarching groups and the variety of service providers. As part of this commission, it was essential for us to work with service providers to reach research participants with a range of backgrounds and experiences, including:

  • people experiencing or who have experienced poverty,
  • specific groups who may have barriers or be reluctant to seek help – older people, BAME groups, people with disabilities,
  • families at risk of child poverty, including families with three or more children, families where there is a lone parent and families where there is someone with a disability.

We are particularly grateful for the assistance of the following service providers:

  • Edinburgh Community Food
  • Pilton Equalities Project (PEP)
  • Fresh Start Community Pantry
  • Cyrenians Pop-Up Pantries at:
    • The Ripple Project, Restalrig,
    • Valley Park Community Centre, Burdiehouse, and
    • Good Trees Neighbourhood Centre, South Edinburgh

With the valuable help of these service providers, we then interviewed 20 city residents about their experience of looking for – and receiving – emergency and community food provision, and views on how and where food and support should be delivered in future. We were happy to achieve all the minimum number of quotas, and spoke to a range of people from different parts of the city. Interviews lasted approximately 30 minutes and were conducted in-person and via phone (depending on participant preference) in November 2022.

Next, qualitative analysis brought their perspectives to the fore. On the one hand, their views were complimentary to the aims of public and third sector partners. On the other hand, people highlighted key dimensions in their experiences which organisations should be mindful of in shaping and communicating the upcoming strategy.

Key data / stats from project

People were very positive about any community and emergency food provision they had accessed. People were more comfortable giving advice for future provision than feedback on current provision. Other key findings include:

Participants shared their motivations for, and experiences of, seeking support:
  • Changes in circumstances – such as unexpected expense, job loss or domestic violence – often triggered people to use emergency or community food provision.
  • Caring commitments – and the need to provide food for others, particularly children – were a key motivating factor, even where participants themselves were struggling.
  • Others expressed a desire to socialise and ‘get out of the house’, as many lunch club users wanted to overcome feelings of isolation.
Participants also shared examples of the support they gained – and outlined the nature, quality and benefits of their experiences:
  • When talking about support to access nutritious low-cost food, people did not limit their discussions to provision by third sector organisations. They also talked about networks of reciprocity between family members, friends and neighbours in different households.
  • Many talked about how volunteers and staff were knowledgeable, helpful and put them at ease. Others mentioned how staff helped with more than food provision – for example, assistance with filling in forms.
  • When asked about financial advice and support, people thought they were managing their money as best they could. There is potential opportunity for prevention through benefits checks/income maximisation, though this is not currently realised to the extent that it could be.

Key research methods used for project

  • Rapid Evidence Review
  • Primary Research
  • Qualitative Interviews
  • Qualitative Analysis
  • Recruitment