Grow, Share, Cook

| Linda Hutchinson

Plymouth’s response to food poverty in the city

Grow, Share, Cook is a fantastic volunteer-based project in Plymouth that addresses food poverty, health eating and building social connections. Over the past 3 years it has:

  • Provided 23,360 meals to 1,611 people
  • Involved 86 volunteer growers, drivers and cooks with some of the cooks drawn from people who themselves have been receiving food bags
  • Resulted in 85% of those who have taken part, saying they now have a healthier diet and 89% saying that Grow, Share, Cook has helped improve their cooking skills

I asked Darin Halifax, Plymouth’s Cities of Service Chief Service Officer about how it began. An interview with him can be found here.

Back in 2012 Plymouth Council held a Fairness Commission, asking residents what it is like living in Plymouth and their views on disparities and inequalities. Two things stood out: fuel poverty and food poverty. Levels of hunger in a 21st century English city shocked people.

Around the same time, Plymouth successfully applied to the Nesta and Cabinet Office proposal to bring the US initiative Cities of Service to the UK. Started by Michael Bloomberg when he was mayor of New York, Cities of Service encourage communities and volunteers to help with priorities for the city. Rather than volunteers doing many different things, Cities of Service focus them on a small number of priority areas in order to have a bigger impact.

Being a City of Service allowed the appointment of the Chief Service Officer and Grow, Share, Cook was one of two projects (the other is on fuel poverty) that received funding.


The question was “How can we use volunteers to help feed the people we know are going hungry?” Using advice from a linked project in Florida which had a similar aim, Plymouth identified land for allotments and encouraged volunteers to start to grow food for others.

Realising they would need scale, they talked with Tamar Grow Local, a social enterprise that involves small local growers and communities to raise awareness of local produce and sustainable production. From the discussions came the idea of a fortnightly 2kg bag of 5 vegetables for £5. Below commercial price, this would contain potatoes, onions, carrots and 2 other seasonal products and would supplement the allotment produce as needed. The Council funded a year’s supply of these for 100 people.

Next came the identification of those 100 people. In the end (and see Darin’s interview for some of the learning about this) about one third were families who are considered ‘troubled families’, a third referred by food banks and the other third were put forward by the social housing partner in the project, Plymouth Community Homes.


At this stage they had the ‘Grow’ and the families identified. The next step was to create the ‘Share’. Prompted by the fact that some food bags were not being collected from the collection points in neighbourhoods, a van was donated by Plymouth Community Homes and deliveries to homes and blocks of flats were made by volunteer drivers. Darin describes this as the tipping point. The project really started to take off; the human contact of the drivers going to where people live, meeting them and putting them in touch with others.


Next was the ‘Cook’. Some families had said they did not know how to cook and did not have the equipment. Recipes and ideas for using the contents of the bags were included within them along with peelers and other requested items.

Cooking sessions run by Food is Fun were arranged in neighbourhoods and, as a bit of the stick to go with the carrot (excuse the awful pun), families had to go to three cooking sessions to continue to get the food bags. At the sessions they filled out a survey on the impact the project was having on their eating habits and lives and so fulfilled a requirement of their enrolment and the Cities of Service funding.

The sessions turned out to be about more than cooking. Connections were made. Food became a language and a common factor. People saw each other again and again. They have formed recipe groups and supportive networks that have endured beyond the end of the project.

Impact and the future

As well as the impact described above there have been other spin offs. At a Pots and Pans Amnesty, 216 pots and pans were donated by Plymouth residents which were then redistributed to Plymouth residents in need. Also, the same supply chain of fruit and vegetables has been used in schools to address ‘holiday hunger’.

The project lives on for a further 36 families with funding from Plymouth City Council and Plymouth Community Homes and it is envisaged that this will continue. Tamar Grow Local are still producing £5 food bags and they offer any member of the general public buying one the chance to buy a second one to donate.

A project that required Council initiative, external funding and a dedicated resource has become sustainable through the involvement of local businesses and communities themselves.

For further information, contact –

Photo by ja ma

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