The Road to Renewal: Stories of Innovation, Adaptation and Resilience

 By Elliot Kett

At the start of lockdown, The Food, Farming and Countryside Commission, decided to start recording the radical changes that we were seeing across our food and farming system and the impact the pandemic was having on rural communities. Here they share some of the personal stories they have collected across the UK.so far.

It’s been nearly three months since the UK went into lockdown. We’ve witnessed almost every aspect of our lives change at a rapid pace – from the way we maintain relationships with friends and family, to the way we shop and eat. We are changing how we think about what we value, what really matters to us.

A recent national poll we conducted with the Food Foundation and YouGov found that only 9% of us in the UK want things to go back to the way they were before the pandemic, that over 19 million of us say they’re cooking more from scratch, and that three million people have tried a veg box scheme or ordered food from a local farm for the very first time.

Alongside this growing appetite for change, stories of adaptation, innovation and resilience in our food and farming systems have emerged from people and communities across the UK – inspiring us and hinting at a better future. But the pandemic has also exposed fault lines – the big gaps in availability of food, especially for the poor and vulnerable, and significant economic impacts on producers.

And we’re not out of this crisis yet, and likely won’t be for some time, even as lockdown restrictions are eased. So how will things settle? Where will the landscape change, and where will things judder back into their previous place? It will be afterwards, as the crisis eases, that these debates and possibilities will play out. How much will we remember then of what we are doing, feeling and wanting now, of what’s working well and what’s failing?

This is why, at the Food, Farming and Countryside Commission, we’re gathering evidence of changes that might otherwise go unrecorded, particularly how households, rural communities and small businesses are adapting. As part of this project – The Road to Renewal – we are collecting and documenting the ways in which people are responding across the UK – to show how the food and farming sectors adapt and respond, and the effect the pandemic is having on rural communities. We hope to hear stories where enterprises and neighbourhoods have been able to adapt fast. We also want to hear those stories that reveal the fragilities of our current food and farming systems, and what this really means for people, businesses and communities

Already the stories people have submitted have been touching and inspiring – the vegetarian bakehouse and café who have teamed up with their local butcher to coordinate an effective home delivery service, the online mental health support service for farmers, and the young farmers’ groups keeping connected remotely and supporting their local communities.

If you also have a story to tell, we’d love to hear from you – this can be a short video story like the ones below, or a written story – you can find out more here: https://roadtorenewal.co.uk/

This work, along with our polling and surveys will help inform future questions and discussions, as the country moves from recovery and along the road to renewal.

Stories from The Road to Renewal:

Jack Wild from Bara Menyn Bakehouse and Cafe in West Wales

The vegetarian Bara Menyn Bakehouse Cafe in Cardigan has teamed up with the local butchers to utilise their existing home delivery service to get bread to local residents after closing the café.

 

Jenny Baillie from the Scottish Association of Young Farmers Clubs

Young farmers are volunteering with co-ops and local shops to drop off food packages to those that aren’t able to leave the house, and The Scottish Association of Young Farmers Clubs are providing training opportunities on Zoom across many different topic areas, including mental health.

 

Becky Wright from the Somerset Mental Health in Agriculture group

In response to Covid-19, the group have created an online resource and training pack – the Z Card – to educate people visiting farms about mental health and to provide information on what to do if they spot the signs of mental ill health.


Learning from lockdown survey:

Our recent survey of over 380 professionals working in food, farming and the countryside finds a huge appetite for change and collaboration across the sector.

80% of respondents wanted most things to be different in the recovery. None wanted everything to go back to how it was before.

To see the full findings and interactive data explorer, click here.