Pointing fingers won’t solve Norfolk’s malnutrition crisis
In the same way that a recent television drama has focused attention on an issue that has been going underreported for decades, a report publicised in the EDP on Monday has similarly shone a light on an issue that has been brewing in Norfolk for years. Norfolk and Waveney tops the list of malnourished areas in the UK, according to a study from Future Health, with 1 in 15 people affected. The scale of malnourishment in our county was shocking news to many, and whilst I still find it shocking, it was not news to me.
Having sat as CEO of Norfolk Community Foundation for 6 years, I am well aware of the issues our county faces. We started to combat hunger and malnutrition in Norfolk 3 years ago with the introduction of East Anglia’s first food hub, The Burrell Shop. The hub provides people nutritious food at affordable prices and also offers help with budgeting, cooking and advice. Once signed up, members can access their local hub as often as they need. It was set up as a direct response to the Covid-19 pandemic, but we knew this support would still be needed after the lockdowns ended. We funded other groups to open food hubs, and 24 are now active across urban and rural Norfolk.
We quickly found that opening a hub causes a wave of finger-pointing. We regularly receive pushback from local people who insist that a hub isn’t needed ‘in their backyard’. Fingers are pointed at individuals on low incomes, who are accused of being financially irresponsible and ignorant, and the food hub is accused of giving ‘lazy people’ free handouts. As the cost-of-living crisis has become more entrenched and mortgage rates rocketed, however, some of the same people who pointed fingers have started shopping at their local hub. This is the reality we live in. Many people who access a Nourishing Norfolk food hub are in work with stable incomes, but simply can’t keep pace with rising prices.
Others point fingers at those in power. When we embarked on this journey, we thought if we had 10,000 people signed up, we would be supporting around half of the hungry people in the county. With over 25,000 now receiving food and support from a food hub, it is clear that the scale of the problem is only increasing. These numbers indicate that there is something deeply wrong with the system.
We need to be braver. Rather than pointing fingers, I argue that the energy generated by these stories is better spent on helping those who for years have already been tackling this challenge and finding imaginative solutions to these problems. Nourishing Norfolk food hubs show the very best of what our society can be. Food hubs have become the beating hearts of their communities and show what caring for our neighbours and taking action really means.
The cost-of-living crisis is not going away. Any reductions in the inflation we are seeing are not manifesting at the checkouts. We need to accept that system change is required, but we must also realise we can act now and use our imaginations to overcome these challenges as communities. The Nourishing Norfolk network is leading the way in transformational change for food supply and connecting partners across the food industry, business and local government. How will you support the game-changing innovation on your doorstep responding to the issues we are now (finally) widely recognising?
Claire Cullens, CEO, Norfolk Community Foundation