Healthy eating project in Preston keeps on growing

Our Food Co-op, Preston
Our Food Co-op, Preston
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Each week around 40 to 60 people get fruit, vegetables and salad from a food co-operative running in Preston. LAURA WILD finds out more about the scheme

Three years ago a fruity way of encouraging healthy eating in the city was born.

Since then ‘Our Food Co-op’ has supplied nearly 3,000 bags of fresh fruit and veg.

The organisation is run by an enthusiastic group of volunteers who are supported by the Community Gateway Association(CGA), Preston City Council and the Wildlife Trust.

Barry Mann, chairman of Our Food Co-op, said: “Our Food Co-op started as a project within Community Gateway Association (CGA) that was developed in response to the findings in the research paper Access to Food, specifically relating to the Moor Nook area of Ribbleton, plus a paper entitled A Tale of two Cities, which was a study of the access to food products in the Deepdale and Ingol areas of Preston.

“CGA staff initially dealt with the day to day running of the service, and used a supplier to an existing Food Co-op group in St Helens.

“As the size of the scheme grew, a board was formed from volunteers from the distribution points and supporting organisations including CGA, Lancashire Wildlife Trust, Preston City Council and UCLan.

“A local supplier was sourced, Banana King, and the number of distribution points expanded.”

The scheme’s operation is fairly straightforward. Our Food Co-op provides high quality bags of fruit, vegetables and salad consisting of six different products, for instance, a bag of fruit would consist of apples, bananas, oranges, grapes, kiwi fruits and a punnet of strawberries.

Customers pay £4 per bag and collect them from their local distribution points which include Intact Community Centre, UCLan Students Union, CGA’s Deltic House, Westview Leisure Centre, Ribbleton and Lyn’s Lunchbox in Savick.

Since winning the Environmental Award at the CGA’s Community Stars Awards Ceremony in 2013, the group has also been successful in receiving Community Sponsorship Funding to help promote Our Food Co-op at events across Preston.

This has enabled them to advertise at community and environmental events such as those in the Harris Museum and on the Flag Market, as well as at events organised by UCLan and the Preston Environmental Forum.

Our Food Co-op’s distinctive logo is being recognised more and more around the city with its new banners and posters to advertise the scheme, as well as showing potential customers the low cost and excellent quality fruit, vegetable and salad bags.

Barry, 63, continued: “The Our Food Co-op Board consists of eight members and there are currently 10 distribution points, each with at least one person responsible for administering the scheme in their centre.

“The small group running the scheme and those who administer the distribution points are passionate about healthy eating and all want to ensure that the Preston community, especially those in the more disadvantaged areas, has access to good quality fresh food.

“Our Food Co-op is different to a food bank in that it buys in the food bags in bulk from a local supplier and sells them once per week to the community at distribution points at no profit.

“The supplier, Banana King, is paid the majority of the cost of the bags with a small amount put aside for transport costs.

“The Community Sponsorship Funding that we were awarded was used to purchase banners, flyers and to supply food bags for free to a number of promotional events with the aim of expanding the customer base and the number of distribution points.”

Barry adds: “The driving force behind the scheme was Loraine Campbell, of CGA, supported by the staff at Moor Nook.

“I became involved as a volunteer at Intact, in Ingol, who joined as a distribution point in January 2013. I joined the board and became chairman at the beginning of 2014. I am also involved with Preston Environmental Forum who also works closely with Our Food Co-op at environmental and health and wellbeing events across Preston.

“Since my retirement five years ago, I have been a volunteer at Intact in roles including gardening and in promoting health and wellbeing.”

l Our Food Co-op is also on Facebook where you can share recipes, receive updates on events and new distribution points, and read what customers think of the produce each week.

l To find out more about Our Food Co-op, email ourfoodco-op@mail.com or call 01772 268034