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The Interview with Elaine Wright

Meet Elaine Wright, our Fair for All Development Officer.

Working alongside the Connected Communities team, she came on board earlier this year to help support the Council’s Fairer Food network of community larders.

We caught up with her to learn more about how she is working with volunteers to stamp out food insecurity in North Ayrshire.

Q: Welcome on board Elaine. Can you tell us a little about what interested you in joining the team as a Fair for All Development Officer?

A: Thank you. It’s great to be part of the inspiring work happening here in North Ayrshire. I would say the main reason I wanted to come on board is to do my part to help people who are struggling to make ends meet. By working together with the larders, I am confident that we’ll be able to reach even more people to get the support they need – especially during the Cost-Of-Living crisis, so that they can lead happier, healthier and more fulfilling lives.


Q: Can you tell us a little about your career/background so far…

A: I’ve worked in Local Authority all my working life. I started off with Cunninghame District Council, then NAC where I worked previously in Education as part of the Children’s Services Team, so got to know the communities very well. After 12 years, I then worked for over at East Ayrshire Social Services.

This new chapter as Fair for All Officer was both an exciting opportunity and a natural progression for me. It also brought me home, so a lovely full circle moment in my career journey. I live in North Ayrshire myself and I’ve seen first-hand how the pandemic really worsened inequalities for so many residents across the area…

I think I have come on board at a crucial time to help the Council to tackle the root causes of deprivation here in North Ayrshire – food poverty is a major factor.

Helping to expand the Council’s Fairer Food network really interested me because it was my way of using the previous experience I had working with communities to positively influence the great work already happening and really make a difference in the heart of our communities.

Q: Tell us 3 fun facts about you…

A: I used to drive a double decker bus – The Playbus, beep beep! In my free time I love crafting and crocheting, it helps me to unwind.

Lastly, I’m a mum of three boys (or young men as they now like to be known). All have grown up in the Three Towns and my eldest, although now 34, was a paper boy for many years and even a postie! So is definitely one of our “weel-kent faces” back home!

So, what exactly is the Fairer Food network?

The Council’s Fairer Food network comprises a total of 14 community larders across each of our six localities with provision available via Arran Outdoor Centre for Arran residents. These are run by community organisations and volunteers, with funding from NAC and the Scottish Government.

Each larder is there to provide support to families and individuals who are struggling with the expense of accessing nutritious and affordable food and are currently at risk of going without.

First set-up during the pandemic, unlike a Foodbank which offers emergency food provision, the larders provide a grocery-like shopping experience. Here (for a small fee) members can come along to get an affordable top-up to their weekly, fortnightly or monthly food shopping and make it go that little bit extra.

The Fairer Food volunteers also offer a holistic approach to tackling inequalities too as volunteers are there to provide support signposting to other services in the Council such as employability or health and wellbeing support that their members may benefit from.

By providing a friendly, welcoming and discreet service (on an appointment basis) the larders aim to remove the stigma associated with those experiencing poverty in North Ayrshire.

Q: What improvements have you driven over the last few months to equip the larders for the difficult months ahead?

A: Since joining at the end of the summer, I have been touring and regularly meeting with all of our community larders, getting to know their volunteers and learning more about the challenges they face.

This fact-finding mission identified a number of areas for action such as trialling a new bulk buying model, looking to sustainability and adding additional value to larder visits with drop-in provision from other services.

With actions underway including promotion of the larder network, reviewing any training needs of the volunteers and keeping the shelves of the larders stocked, the behind-the-scenes work continues…

Q: As well as offering the grocery shopping assistance, what highlights have happened throughout the larders over the last year?

A: Another way our volunteers have been supporting residents is by giving advice on budget meal recipes, energy saving cooking tips and sharing more budget-busting tips to make the ingredients from our larders go even further.

Christina from Ardeer Larder recently made a video to share some these – look out on social media this week where we’ll be sharing this ahead of the Christmas break.

Q: How are you helping to tackle the problem of food poverty in North Ayrshire?

A: In my role, I am privileged to work with people on the frontline who are willingly giving up their time to ensure that their communities have access to affordable food. The time, energy and commitment that the volunteers give, is truly humbling.

A big part of my day-to-day, involves engaging with partners such as TACT, Sustainable Food Network, Allotments, North Ayrshire Foodbank and many others to increase activities related to the production and distribution of good, affordable food.

While our Facilities Management team coordinates the provision of free school meals and the holiday meals programme, my role concentrates on helping families and individuals who are in need of a little extra help with food costs via the community larder network.

The Fairer Food larder network is one of the main ways the Council is addressing food insecurity here in North Ayrshire. This is why the hard work, determination and collective community efforts of each individual larder is so important. They are at the helm of the Council’s Fair for All strategy to alleviate food poverty in our communities once and for all.

Q: Has the Cost-Of-Living crisis worsened the situation here in North Ayrshire.

A: Most definitely. Since the start of the pandemic, the Council has provided 1.26 million meals to some of our most vulnerable residents. It was during this time that The Quaint Larder, Ardrossan and Ardrossan South Larder were first set up.

A further nine larders then followed throughout 2021 when we established larders at West Kilbride, Bourtreehill, Stevenston, Dalry, Kilwinning, Irvine and Beith. However food poverty is still posing a serious problem. With life now getting back to the way it was, the Cost-Of-Living crisis is a new threat to food security, this is why this year the three newest community larders opened in Kilbirnie, Saltcoats and Springside.

Food and energy costs are now at an all-time high, so people are starting feel the pinch more than ever before. This means more of our residents are at risk of experiencing food insecurity.

What I mean by this, is that for a number of reasons, be it rising bills or a change in circumstances such as unemployment or cuts to benefit, many people are currently lacking consistent access to enough food for every person in their household to live an active and healthy life without barriers. Our aim is to eradicate this problem via the Fairer Food network.

Whether it be a temporary or a long-term issue the member is facing, it’s my job to work with our larders to assist people across our six localities and ensure they can continue to afford access to nutritious food, especially when times are tough.

Food and energy costs are now at an all-time high, so people are starting feel the pinch more than ever before. This means more of our residents are at risk of experiencing food insecurity. Our aim is to eradicate this problem via the Fairer Food network. By continuing to work closely with our volunteers, I am confident that we will be able to assist even more residents to break down the barriers that are holding them back and empower them to gain dignified access to the support they need. Hopefully, if we can help from a food poverty perspective, our members will have the chance to gain independence and feel more empowered to overcome other obstacles in their lives.

Argyle and West Kilbride community larders have been running a number of cookery classes in association with their local larder, creating simple recipes like soups and warming casseroles and winter pies.

Ardrossan South Community Larder have also teamed up with North Ayrshire Food Bank to create helpful recipe cards. Another exciting development for Ardrossan – thanks to Foodbank funding from the Council’s Community Investment Fund – is that a community baker will soon be supplying them and other larders with freshly baked goods at an affordable price – stay tuned in the Spring edition of Staff Talk for more updates on this.

And our larders have also recently benefited from the Council’s Period Dignity Strategy as free period products – including reusable environmentally friendly alternatives – are fully rolled out now in all of our larder locations, following the recent Period Dignity Consultation. These have been very well-received.

Q: Any final thoughts?

A: I would like to take this opportunity to express my sincere thanks to everyone who has donated this year whether that has been through donating their time, with goods or local individuals and businesses who have kindly made a monetary donation. We are all extremely grateful thank you.

Our aim is to help to create a North Ayrshire where no one lives in poverty and the where everyone has the same live chances to live fulfilling and healthy lives. But we can’t do it alone.

Everybody is feeling the pinch, but in order for our larders to keep doing the great job that they do, they are in constant need of donations to keep shelves stocked.

Whether it’s a box of cereal, a tin of canned meat (two of the items in particular demand just now) or anything else really that you think you would be able to spare, your donations would be gratefully received.

We have over 7,000 employees, so just think what a massive difference we could make together if we were able to even just donate a few tinned items each… So, if you can, please take the time to donate before the Christmas break or if you have excess items after the holidays, bring them along to your local larder in the New Year.

Visit the Google Map to find your nearest larder and opening times to drop off donations so that together we can tackle poverty this winter.

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