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Agenda item

Cost of Living Crisis Scrutiny Review - Discussion on conclusions and outstanding issues


Evidence on food cooperatives


The Committee received evidence from [name], a representative of Cooperation Town, a network of community food co-operatives. This highlighted the work of food co-operatives in providing low-cost and nutritious food to communities across North London.


The following main points were noted in the debate:


·        Food cooperatives allowed people to combine their purchasing power and buy food in bulk, resulting in significant financial savings. It was commented that this gave people more choice and autonomy over their food choices, in comparison to accessing food banks, for example. Food cooperatives increased purchasing power by five to eight times more in comparison to purchasing food in shops. The aim was to provide access to healthy food at an affordable price.

·        Food cooperatives also provided an opportunity for people to meet their neighbours and strengthened communities.

·        There were four existing food co-ops in Islington and others across London. Cooperation Town provided a starter pack on how to run a food co-op and collaborated with local authorities on helping communities to self-organise.

·        One challenge for food cooperatives was the availability of suitable space and it was helpful if such organisations were able to access community facilities for storage. This would include space to unload pallets and fridges for fresh goods.

·        The organisation wished to develop long term and meaningful collaboration with the council to promote and support food cooperatives in Islington. This would involve training and supporting organisers based in the local community.  

·        A member strongly endorsed the work of the food cooperative on the Girdlestone Estate and noted that it had led to community vegetable growing initiatives and brought local people together.

·        Following a question, it was advised that the London Borough of Camden had allocated space to ten local food co-operatives and this allowed joint purchasing of some items and also saved on logistical costs.

·        Food was purchased in bulk from wholesalers, cash and carry shops, and sometimes supermarkets if this was the most cost-effective option.

·        Following a question, it was advised that the most successful food cooperatives were supported by people already embedded in the community who had connections to different organisations and who understood local power dynamics.

·        A member asked a question on the dynamic between food banks and cooperative food hubs; these were very different models, with food banks based on charity, and food cooperatives based on solidarity. It was queried if food cooperatives were a suitable option for people in challenging personal circumstances. In response, it was advised that many people involved in food cooperatives had complex lives, however unfortunately there would be a need for food banks while poverty persisted. Food cooperatives did however have other benefits; one food cooperative in Islington was run by Somali women who held regular informal mental health support sessions. Another cooperative in Camden led to the formation of a cooking club. Although there were administrative responsibilities associated with being a member of a food cooperative, there were also time savings associated with reduced time shopping for food.


The Committee thanked [name] for her attendance.


Conclusions of the scrutiny review


The Chair advised that the recommendations of the review would be submitted to the next meeting.