NE Scotland, Orkney & Shetland

Success of first Scottish pantry in Aberdeen offers food for thought

tin with blurred person in background behind
Image caption The Woodside Pantry in Aberdeen is the first of its kind in Scotland

A basket full of high-quality food for £2.50 may seem too good to be true - but that's now the reality for shoppers at Scotland's first food pantry.

The Woodside Pantry in Aberdeen provides people living in one of the city's most disadvantaged areas a way to shop for a lot less.

It is an innovative, community-run project.

The aim is to combat food poverty, and it has been hailed as a sustainable alternative to food bank use.

For a small weekly charge, members get access to food donated by supermarkets and a local charity.

'Emergency service'

Clare Whyte, one of the workers at the community centre where the pantry is based, told BBC Scotland's The Nine: "Food banks are not a long-term solution. It's an emergency food service, really.

"This could be a way to reduce food waste which is massive and a huge issue as we know and also tackle food poverty at the same time.

"It's amazing that we can do that."

Food parcels from food banks are often only available to people who have been referred by frontline professionals like GPs or advice agencies.

But membership of the Woodside Pantry was initially open to anyone living in the immediate area around the Fersands and Fountain Community Centre, where the project is based.

It proved so popular that the catchment area has now been widened and the membership cap extended.

'Very reasonable price'

Almost half of the people using the service receive benefits or Jobseeker's Allowance. A quarter of the users are single parents.

There are now 83 households with membership to the pantry, and more than 200 local residents - including children - are directly benefitting.

"I can get some very good, healthy food at a very reasonable price," said Margaret Aisbitt, who was one of the first to sign up.

Image caption More than 200 residents of the Woodside area of Aberdeen are already benefitting from the pantry

"It's a great idea because you feel like you're contributing something, but you're not getting anything for free."

She said she is more than happy to pay the membership fee of £3, and the weekly charge of £2.50.

'More dignified provision'

She explained: "The range varies because it's all donated, so you're not sure what you're going to get.

"Today I picked up a lovely piece of venison, some nice apple juice, something for my store cupboard, and mushrooms."

All of the food in the Woodside Pantry is donated via supermarkets or through food-distribution charity Fareshare Grampian, operated by Community Food Initiatives North East (CFINE).

Some of the donations are often close to their "best before date", as supermarkets try to clear their shelves for a new batch of produce.

Unlike food banks where people are given pre-made food parcels, the pantry sees users pick their own items from the shelves.

"We think the pantry model is one which is a much more dignified provision," said Dave Kilgour, a development manager at CFINE.

Image caption All of the food available to buy has been donated to the project through Community Food Initiatives North East

He said he has seen an increase in the amount of people in Aberdeen who have been dependent on emergency food supplies.

"Because of the massive increase in terms of people who are having to come to food banks we need to look at more alternative models, particularly those which have a bit more dignity and respect."

The Woodside Pantry is open on a Tuesday and a Thursday for a limited number of hours.

It is run by volunteers, who are also local and users of the service.

Image caption After the success of this pilot, the founders are planning more pantries across Aberdeen

Ian Armstrong is one of those who helps out.

'Helps me budget'

He said: "Since its opened I've been meeting different people, it's nice working all together. Most people's on benefits, so it's really good. They're saving a lot of money on their food.

"It gets me out the house, for one. For two, it helps me budget more cause I can save a bit more money and spend it on other things that I need."

CFINE has identified seven similar areas in Aberdeen where they want to open pantries and create a network across the city.

Meanwhile, the shoppers at the Woodside Pantry want to see it rolled out further afield.

Mr Armstrong concluded: "It's such a good thing, it should definitely be all over Scotland. People would benefit so much from it."

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