E-asy riders deliver surplus food to vulnerable households in Milton Keynes

Environmental charity Hubbub launches the pilot of Food Connect today. The initiative will use fleets of electric bikes and vans to redistribute surplus food from retailers, helping to tackle increased food insecurity.

Recent research from the charity found that nearly 1 in 5 people in the UK are concerned about access to free food during lockdown, such as that from food banks and community fridges.

Community fridges in Milton Keynes have been delivering food packs since the beginning of lockdown to those who are struggling to access food due to low incomes or travel restrictions, in partnership with FareShare, local NGOs and councils. The team has now been awarded a fleet of e-bikes and an electric van thanks to funding from CAF Venturesome and The National Lottery Community Fund, and Milton Keynes Council through the eCargo Bike Grant Fund3, funded by the Department for Transport and delivered by Energy Saving Trust. They will be used to distribute fresh food that would have otherwise gone to waste to vulnerable households across the town.

Using more environmentally-friendly transport to deliver the food supports the public’s desire to reduce air pollution. Research released recently by Hubbub found that 62% of Brits have noticed cleaner air as a result of lockdown and they would like to see this continue long-term. Electric vehicles were also found to be one of the most popular forms of transport for government investment.

Food Connect Volunteer Bike Rider Joe Bulman

The Wolverton Community Fridge in Milton Keynes was one of the first to open in the UK in 2017 and an original member of Hubbub’s Community Fridge Network of community fridges across the UK. Further fridges have opened since in Coffee Hall, Netherfield, Great Linford and West Bletchley. Whilst community fridges are open to everyone and have become hubs for sharing food education, skills, knowledge and goods, they have had to adapt to the challenges of Covid-19 and social-distancing. Many have now temporarily switched to new operations, including delivering surplus food to the doors of the most vulnerable households in their area.

Following the pilot, Hubbub’s ambition is to roll out Food Connect to other parts of country, connecting community fridges and local retailers. Businesses and organisations interested in supporting and collaborating in the next phase should visit www.foodconnect.io

Kanahaya Alam, Community Fridge Network Manager at Hubbub said: “We know from our recent State of the Nation’s Plate report that a significant number of people are concerned about accessing free food during lockdown. Yet millions of pounds worth of food is wasted every year in the UK. Community fridges already play an important part in tackling this, and our ambition is that Food Connect will help retailers distribute surplus food straight to those who need it, whilst supporting the need for cleaner air.”

Helen Innes, Project Co-ordinator for Food Connect said: “We’re pleased to be part of this effort during the pandemic to reach some of our most vulnerable residents in Milton Keynes. Even before Covid-19, getting surplus food that final mile to the community fridge was a challenge, so this fleet will have a huge impact through lockdown and beyond as we begin to reopen to the wider community.”

Richard Kennell, CEO of education charity SOFEA, which operates FareShare South Midlands, said: “Demand for FareShare’s service has skyrocketed since the coronavirus outbreak, and we’re now working tirelessly to significantly increase the amount of food we deliver each week, ensuring surplus food gets to those who need it most. Our partnership with Hubbub, the Community Fridge Network and Milton Keynes Council therefore comes at a critical time as we work together through the crisis to fight hunger and food waste whilst minimising our environmental impact.”

Cllr Jenny Marklew, Cabinet Member for Sustainability at Milton Keynes Council said: “We are committed to new and innovative ways to contribute towards our ambition of becoming carbon neutral by 2030. E-cargo bikes are such a fantastic way to help us achieve this, meaning the council staff, social enterprises and local businesses are all able to play a part in reducing our impact on the environment.”

Holger Westphely, Acting Head of CAF Venturesome, said: “We have been supporting the growth of Hubbub with social investment for the past five years and are delighted that the previous loans have been fully repaid as a result of that growth and their success. So when they applied for a new social investment loan for Food Connect we were only too happy to support it. We are very impressed by their response to the Covid-19 crisis, developing an eco-friendly solution delivering vital supplies to vulnerable people, whilst reducing food waste. Hubbub continue to deliver projects with a high social impact and we look forward to working with them for many years.”

Tim Anderson, Head of Transport at Energy Saving Trust, said: “The Department for Transport eCargo Bike Grant Fund attracted a significant number of applications. The 18 local authorities who have successfully secured funding will purchase a total of 273 ecargo bikes and nine ecargo bike trailers, enabling more businesses to benefit from access. eCargo bikes are an attractive low carbon transport solution which offer important benefits, most impressively fuel cost savings and contributing to improved local air quality. Last mile delivery is an important area for consideration in our journey to reduce transport emissions to net zero by 2050.”