Recognising the role of community in supporting families experiencing food insecurity

In an old community hall in the East of Scotland, David, who is an adult with additional support needs, has his arms wrapped around Alison. Alison has devoted her adult life to creating a safe place for families. David holds her head tight to his chest and through his arms I can only see parts of her face.

Alison’s mouth shows a huge smile and her eyes are bright with love and laughter.

“I might be here for a while”, she says.

Meanwhile, in a small primary school in the West of Scotland, children with additional support needs are planting seedlings completely absorbed in the task. Their parents are inside the school learning how to use massage as a relaxation technique. One boy though is alone, cycling a trike around the playground. He is completely removed, but this is his focussed task.

Until the food arrives.

At this moment the trike is abandoned and he rushes to be involved. His task now is setting the tables and serving the food and he has the biggest smile. He talks excitedly as he helps and directs the work. He is a happy boy and his mum is delighted.

Scotland is a small and vibrant country. Across the land there are brave, resourceful and selfless people building relationships, building trust, building upon community strengths and creating safe havens for our most vulnerable people.

Without these sparks of life and activity, there would be nothing to build upon and if we don’t find and nurture these small flames, we will lose them.

My dad taught me how to build a fire, anywhere. He was a very resourceful man and I was very lucky to have him around.

“Find the smallest bits of dry stuff, leaves, grass, twigs” he would say. “Seek them out and keep them dry until you have enough to light. But don’t light them until you’ve collected enough bigger bits ready to put on when the fire is lit. Without that preparation the flame will be short lived. Only after all this will you be ready to place larger bits of wood on the fire, then, with care, it will burn all night.”

The lesson in life for me was, if you rush your fire and throw large things on top of small things, you will snuff it out. Building solid foundations on what you already have is essential.

Food Families Futures is a Children in Scotland project. It exists to address food insecurity but also to help establish family support around that. It began in 2015 and I have been trusted with the project since last year. Before that I was working with communities in the East end of Glasgow.

I have been lucky enough to travel throughout Scotland, meeting some amazing people, many of whom are trapped and isolated by poverty. In many cases, the answer to the challenges caused by poverty, are known by and acted upon by those same people. Where possible I have helped Scottish Government funding to reach some of those groups.

Since our early ventures into tackling food insecurity in 2015, over 90% of local authorities now fund some action to address this issue during holiday periods. This is a massive step forward in a short space of time. Great credit must be given to those who have found the resources to make this happen.

But, and there is a but, sometimes we are throwing large logs on tiny fires.

The major challenge that we face in addressing issues of poverty is getting the balance and focus of investment right. The political pressure is to resource established service providers which means that they then hold the power of decision making and investment.

The opportunity is to recognise and resource those who take the essential community actions that fall outwith the responsibility of the big providers. It is there that long-term solutions lie.

Shifting power is difficult. Giving up power and money is grindingly and reluctantly slow, but absolutely essential.

We have a moment and an opportunity to get something very important exactly right.

We have an opportunity to take an overview of all that is happening across our small nation to tackle food insecurity. In doing so we will identify many ways to tackle poverty and to resist those actions that create the environment that makes the wider attack on families acceptable.

If we take the time to identify good practice, recognise innovative problem solving, value selfless commitment and strong community foundational work, we will have the opportunity to properly resource that.

As a small nation it should be easy to establish a connectivity and conversation that can share all of this. Then we will have the opportunity to help many more people to escape the completely unnecessary circumstances that poverty inflicts.

There are many brave and distinctive actions already being taken by the people and communities across Scotland. This includes those who are privileged enough to be in a position to govern, both locally and nationally.

There are changes in our approach to education, to health, to welfare and also childcare.

These seem to me like the early actions of carefully building a really good fire that might burn for a while.

Our actions on food insecurity can be a part of that if we act now.