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Family Action launched Food On Our Doorstep (FOOD) Clubs to provide good-quality food at a low cost, while also reducing food waste. Here Dr Patricia Lucas from the University of Bristol explains research carried out by her team into how members of FOOD Clubs in Bristol see the clubs, and the benefits of FOOD Clubs for them and their families.

During 2020 researchers from the University of Bristol carried out 14 telephone interviews with members from three Bristol FOOD Clubs. Those we spoke to valued the FOOD Club very highly, they were able to access food they wanted to eat at a low cost in a friendly and welcoming setting.

FOOD Clubs helped people make a difference to their budget. Since joining the FOOD Club, many people were spending less on food, and this has made a significant difference to household budgets. People told us that their money stretched further, and that the FOOD Club helped to get them through to the end of the month. FOOD Club helped them feel more in control of their money, for example by planning their shopping to supplement the FOOD Club parcels and using supermarkets less.

“ [Whatever] I have in my fridge, you know, from the FOOD Club then I don’t buy it at the supermarket. So I plan my weekly shopping after I have visited FOOD Club.” Karin

Nearly everyone we spoke to felt FOOD Club was really good value for money. Although some weeks they received more than others, they were confident they always received more food than they could buy in the shops for £3.50 and it often included treats or more expensive foods they couldn’t otherwise afford. Not everyone realised that FOOD Clubs helped to reduce food waste, but those who did know this were enthusiastic about it.

“you’re saving money, you’re helping your family, and you’re getting, like, all other sorts of stuff that you’ve never had before, and you can try. Yeah. And you’re not wasting food.” Kiri

For the most part, people were very happy with the quality and variety of food they were receiving. While everyone acknowledged there was sometimes a lack of variety, and that fresh food often had to be eaten very quickly because it was close to its use-by date, most understood this was part of the model and accommodated this. For people who knew what they liked, and wanted familiar foods delivered to a regular pattern, the FOOD Club model was less useful because they could not rely on getting what they wanted. However, others said they liked not knowing what would be available from FOOD Club, they looked forward to getting surprises. This was particularly true for those who felt confident cooking and didn’t mind when they tried something and it didn’t work out.

An unexpected benefit of joining the FOOD Clubs was trying out new foods, and an increased interest in cooking. People liked the recipes and advice given by FOOD Club staff, posted on Facebook pages, and shared by other FOOD Club members.

“I used to always do the same few dishes, and that’s ok but after a while you lose the, um, impetus and it becomes really uninspiring…Where now I have to actually make things from scratch, I realise I actually enjoy learning how to make things, so it’s been a journey of discovery.” Steve

FOOD Club staff were described as kind, friendly and willing to help out, and FOOD Club was also a social opportunity.

“It’s a social thing, I get to meet other mums…it really helped me make friends with more mums who are, yeah, in the same position as me, and realise that I’m not alone.” Beth

Most people had heard about the FOOD Club through word of mouth, and they had gone on to tell their friends and family about it too. Several people we spoke to wanted to volunteer or offer other support to the FOOD Club in the future. Everyone we spoke to was very positive about their experiences of FOOD Clubs, and felt they belonged to their community and supported their community.

Bristol FOOD Clubs are continuing to support families across the city. Our website lists all the FOOD Clubs in Bristol, as well in other areas of England. 

To find out more about the research by contacting Patricia.lucas@bristol.ac.uk