I think I’m right in claiming that Plymouth was the first council to take the Co-operative Party’s model motion on food justice to council back in 2019. Tackling food poverty was not a new for Plymouth – we pioneered schemes to address holiday hunger with CATERed well before – but what the motion successfully achieved was to raise the profile of food poverty within the Council and re-energise the administration’s partnership with Food Plymouth, the central connecting hub for all food-related matters in the City. In a very practical sense, the work done last year positioned us to deal as effectively as possible to deal with the catastrophe of Covid-19.
Co-operative approaches run through our DNA in Plymouth Labour. Food relief, making sure people do not go hungry when they face an immediate crisis, is of course crucially important work and an important element of what both the council and Food Plymouth do. However we both see relief as necessary but transitory, a step towards solutions which are long term, sustainable, and co-operative.
Our Director of Public Health works closely with Food Plymouth and the very positive relationship has resulted in the council and the Partnership working jointly on our Thrive Plymouth inequalities programme; one part of which aims to connect people through food. The relationship between the Council and Food Plymouth is underpinned by a common understanding of the problems which need to be addressed. Anti-poverty initiatives are absolutely crucial but they need to go hand in hand with encouraging healthy attitudes to food and exercise, an understanding of what to buy and eat, support during holidays for those on Free School Meals, transforming catering procurement, reducing waste.
With this aim in mind, we are using some of the money that the Government provided to local authorities over the summer to work with Food Plymouth and all of the mutual aid and community groups to look at taking forward a new sustainable model of working based on co-operative values and principles. I am interested to see what we can learn from the Co-operation Town approach as we do this.
The successful partnership between the council and Food Plymouth helped us to achieve Sustainable Food Cities Bronze Award in 2015. We are approaching the end of a planned five year programme of activity which will, we hope, result in Plymouth achieving the Sustainable Food Cities (SFC) Silver Award – joining Bristol, Brighton and Hove, and the GLA and London Food Board and mark the fact that we have adopted a joined up, holistic approach to food. Of course, the Silver award is not an aim in and of itself. It would be recognition that we are making a real difference to people’s lives in respect of their attitude to, and access of, good nutrition. If the City does achieve SFC Silver then it will be a down to the political will we have in Plymouth to put co-operative ideals into practice.