Diana Sterck, CEO of Sustainable Merton, presents her view on the borough’s response to food during lockdown and looks forward to building on this over the next 12 months.
When lockdown was announced in March, I knew that Sustainable Merton had to escalate its plans around food. Having coordinated the borough’s Food Poverty Action Plan for two years, we had no doubt that many more people than usual would be in crisis in being able to access and afford food and urgent action needed to be taken.
Sustainable Merton had exciting plans to open Merton’s Community Fridge - the first community fridge in the borough - in April and, with the support of Morden Baptist Church where our Fridge is located, we were still able to offer this as a food resource facility for those in need from early May.
Many of our Community Champion Fridge Friends have put in numerous hours delivering food, receiving food deliveries, and distributing food to the community. Thanks to their hard work we have had a massive impact. Since opening in May, Merton’s Community Fridge has served over 80 families, stopped 5565kg of food from going to waste (equivalent to 17,807Kg of CO2), and made 45 deliveries of food through Fareshare Go.
During the early weeks of lockdown, many of the organisations who work with people living in food poverty came together to share information and plans. With support from Merton Council and Merton College, and with food supplied free of charge by the London Food Alliance and Fareshare, we worked together to create Merton's Community Fridge Network: a network of food redistribution hubs in the borough to support those in need. The food supplied by the London Food Alliance was stored in Merton College’s fabulous food kitchens, which were closed to students during lockdown, and distributed by Merton Council officers and their bailiff team. These are both great examples of community action resulting from staff not being able to fulfil their normal jobs because of lockdown.
With support from Merton Council’s Neighbourhood Fund, we are delighted to announce that three more community fridges will be rolled out across the borough to continue the amazing work that has already been done to create Merton’s Community Fridge Network. Alongside Sustainable Merton, the partners are Commonside Community Trust (Mitcham), Polish Family Association (Colliers Wood) and the Wimbledon Guild (central Wimbledon). All four community fridges will become social food hubs, providing workshops, food demonstrations and information on nutritious food for all cultures.
This important partnership working also spearheaded collaborative activity that has already come to fruition. Sustainable Merton has been successful in two funding applications which will link local food growing spaces to organisations who provide food to those in need and that will also reduce food waste by sharing surplus food in our local communities.
Our two flagship community food growing projects: Phipps Bridge Community Garden and Mitcham Community Orchard and Gardens, continue to provide safe, social spaces for residents to get active, grow local and harvest food for themselves and others. Excess fruit and vegetables are currently donated to Merton’s Community Fridge, ensuring that none is wasted. It’s all about growing, saving and sharing!
There are numerous other partners we work with and will continue to work with - the Dons Local Action Group, Wimbledon Foodbank, the Salvation Army and, of course, all those working with the Council’s support and through the Merton Voluntary Service Council (MVSC) COVID-19 Community Response Hub.
Partnership has been fundamental to Merton’s response to COVID-19 and, as a community leader, I am proud of and thankful for the amazing work that has been taken forward by working together. It’s by no means the end, but rather the start of a new phase for collaborations to help people to eat well and live well.
CEO, Sustainable Merton
Connecting communities through growing, saving and sharing good food in Merton