Why creating community-led project spaces can ease social isolation

Why creating community-led project spaces can ease social isolation

Pantry is an excellent middle-English word for a very 21st century idea: a peer-to-peer community food collective creating larder-filling products and changing lives in one of London's poorest boroughs.

Here's how the program started: enthusiastic amateur cooks in Barking and Dagenham were given expert advice on refining their favorite home recipes into sellable products, perfecting batch-cooking, developing packaging design and sourcing ingredients. Finally, tastings were arranged, and the products were tested in market stalls.

"They're such a great team," says Nat Defriend from the Participatory City Foundation, which provides funding and support for the program. "There's a woman who does amazing things with brownies, and a women tempering her own chocolate. We've got a cake-maker. We've got a guy who makes incredible chutney. We've got a woman who makes jollof rice, and another who makes unusual and delicious things that are kind of like pesto, but not pesto."

"They're delicious, really credible food products — which until recently they were knocking up in their own kitchens," he added. "And what's really important is they've begun to operate as a collective: They've been batch-cooking together, and are taking on catering commissions together. All we did was to remove obstacles and barriers in their path, and take on the financial risk."

Launched in late 2017, Participatory City's 'Every One, Every Day' project in the Barking and Dagenham borough is awe-inspiring in its ambition, and almost certainly the largest of its kind in the world: a borough-wide, five-year, £7.2m project which aims to involve 25,000 residents and create more than 250 neighbourhood-led projects. Pantry is one of its early success stories.

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