In March 2020, in the midst of lockdown, a small group of energetic and committed people set up the Teign Valley Community Larder astonishingly quickly, finding a simple way to address food poverty while reducing food waste in their community.
When Ted Miller posted a comment to the local Facebook group in April suggesting we should set up a local food bank for the Teign Valley, Devon, little did he imagine that by September he’d be a director of a brand new community interest company: Teign Valley Larder. Actually, he probably didn’t realise that within eight days of his post we would have our community larder up and running in the porch of St James’s church in Christow. It’s amazing what can be achieved when you get a group of determined and energetic people all pulling in the same direction, with the community behind them.
So how did it all come about? In fact, there had been a vague idea about a community fridge or larder floated in the Teign Climate Hub Facebook group a while back. So, when Covid-19 and lockdown hit us and Ted’s comment appeared, there was already a groundswell of support for a project of this sort. The motivations were different, with one focussed mainly on reducing food waste and the other on providing for local people experiencing food insecurity or poverty, but the means of achieving these was one and the same.
A core team quickly formed, including our vicar (the Rev Ruth Frampton), who gave us a home in the church porch, a key member of Teign Climate Hub (Rachel Barradale) who kick-started donations of ‘rescued from landfill’ food items, and an experienced food bank volunteer (Vinny Logan) who advised on what larder users would be likely to need. Who knew that tinned potatoes and meat pies would be so popular? Louise Webb, local foster parent and super-handy-woman, transformed a grotty old set of shelves into the ‘larder’ and mustered a team of volunteers to clean and restock the larder daily while I was able to use my grant application experience to secure funding from Dartmoor National Park Authority and other local organisations. Ted’s marketing and design skills enabled us to promote the larder ready for opening on 8 May.
At that point, we didn’t know what the level of need would be. We’d consulted groups like Acorn Community Support and school governors who said they knew of people who were struggling to eat well during lockdown, so it shouldn’t have come as a surprise when people started using the larder right from day one. We installed mini larders in three other Teign Valley villages, and they too have been well used. It’s a self-service, honesty-based system so we can’t keep accurate records of numbers, but we ask users to leave coloured tokens (milk bottle tops) in a container to tell us when they’ve visited and how many adults and children in their household. Some days there are no tokens left even though food has gone and others we get a handful, about a third of them red, representing children. The feedback slips have included messages like ‘Epic idea – thank you!’ and ‘Thank you so much for this’. Others come to the larder to collect surplus, fresh organic vegetables donated by Teign Greens or Whippletree farm and leave a donation of long-life food in exchange. You just have to look at Teign Valley Larder Facebook page to see what bounty we’ve been given this summer – not just vegetables, but generous donations of all kinds of long-life food including deliveries from FareShare.
With demand firmly established it has become clear that we are in for the long haul. Team member Chris Keppie has completed a form-filling marathon to eventually gain us Community Interest Company status after the charity commission turned us down (long story!). We have opened a bank account and persuaded trained accountant Giles Frampton to take on the role of treasurer, while journalist Nathan Bushell helps with communications. Now, with a bank account and official status, we are embarking on our next phase of fund-raising, to buy a box trailer that we can use as a more permanent home, with fewer leaks than our current storage barn. We’re about halfway to our target of £6,000 so if you’re feeling generous please donate via our Go Fund Me page.