With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown, Edinburgh Community Food’s service delivery quickly altered as we dynamically responded to changing contexts and needs, in terms of both social enterprise and community development work.

Prior to the pandemic ECF supplied fresh produce to around 120 offices and 40 homes. We also ran stalls in the Western General and Royal Infirmary hospitals. As lockdown took hold and offices closed all of our corporate clients cancelled their orders and our hospital stalls ceased trading.

Within a 24-hour period our food delivery system diverged from business, community and homes to: home delivery to the vulnerable, the socially isolated, people self-isolating and those facing financial hardship. ECF became a key partner in the Edinburgh Council/EVOC-led Vulnerable Groups Food Network referral system, supplying up to 1,200 family-sized boxes each week (totalling c.300,000 meals across Edinburgh).

Our four-strong community development team also quickly adapted and provided essential administrative, hygiene, practical and logistical support to our enterprise team, along with sourcing/creating supportive content for our deliveries, such as health promotion advice, recipes, storage advice, waste reduction, equipment, content from partner agencies, growing kits and more.  The Development Team also assumed telephone duties, liaising directly with community members, some of whom were experiencing complex difficulties, and assessed people for need. Thanks to our ‘pay-it-forward’ donations scheme we were able to triage and then supply people in crisis with free boxes and any necessary equipment. While some agencies were uncontactable, ECF never closed and turned no-one away.

Our Premises

At the start of the crisis ECF undertook a professional deep clean of premises and delivery vans to meet government guidelines. Development staff designed and implemented hygiene policies and guidance (including a one-way system across our two premises, safe workflow for the Enterprise team and comprehensive signage) for our teams and partnerships and ECF nominated a team member to ensure adherence across the organisation. We implemented sanitation and temperature-taking stations throughout our premises and advised staff on illness and what to do if exhibiting symptoms. We worked towards increasing workflow capacity, devising new practices and layouts, to enable us to meet and even exceed new demands. In addition, we cleared our second warehouse of currently unused catering equipment and turned it over to FareShare to use as storage for long-life foods.


Our Teams

Our teams faced new ways of working in a new environment and as an organisation we sought to be protect our staff and offer as much flexibility as possible.  To this end staff received new I.T. technology, a new phone system, new equipment, vans and uniforms. Volunteers kindly supplied us with large quantities of hand sanitiser, face masks and face shields. Acknowledging the challenges our teams faced shift patterns were altered and made more flexible and those who were able to work from home were supported to do so with the provision of home computing equipment and daily face-to-face Zoom meetings. Due to the ever-changing and complex context staff were upskilled to work in new ways and new roles. As examples our Nutritionists procured and packed produce, wrote policy and enforced hygiene rules, stall staff supervised warehousing systems, packers worked on our website and van drivers contributed to app development. Four new temporary staff members were also recruited to assist.


ECF developed and adapted our pre-existing food boxes to supply a far greater contribution to a four-person household’s weekly food requirements. To fresh produce and essentials (bread, milk and eggs) we added quantities of long-life items from FareShare, such as tinned pulses, pasta/grains, tinned meats and fish, jars of sauces and more. We also included large numbers of our four-portion ‘take & make’ DIY all-in-one meal kits and, further, adapted these to make them suitable for people cooking for one. However, we were also keen to offer more than nourishing food.

We added in items aimed to give some comfort to people (e.g. food treats, growing kits and nature-related activities for children and adults, cook books and recipe cards) in addition to useful resources and equipment and a diverse array of health promotion information and recipes (e.g. on balanced diet, food and mood, oral health, identifying and addressing malnutrition, along with Covid 19 Food Hygiene guidelines for receiving deliveries and food storage), including in dementia-friendly formats for older people. We also sourced content from partner agencies to assist them in getting their messages out to our communities across Edinburgh. Examples include materials and resources from: Changeworks, British Heart Foundation, RSPB Scotland, Love Food Hate Waste, Police Scotland, British Dietetic Association, Samaritans and others.   In addition, we sourced pet food, along with sanitary products, nappies, toothbrushes and tooth paste, other toiletries and, when it was scarce, toilet paper.

Development Work

As the Enterprise team enhanced and streamlined practices the Development Team were, from late March 2020 onwards, able to return to and spend increased time on our core development work. Necessarily, in-person community work and training courses had already ceased and ECF explored new ways of delivering content online and supporting both communities and other third sector organisations, including our key partners across the city. Some of our work, such as health talks and training courses, have suited adaptation for online delivery, and our first nutrition and health sessions and Royal Environmental Health Institute of Scotland (REHIS) courses took place in late March and April, respectively. While the running of cooking groups online has presented challenges we have been, since May, running online groups in various different formats.

In addition to this we have been focusing our relationships with key partners and have also forged many new partnerships, allowing us to support and supply partners with training and health information sessions, along with bespoke health promotion content, newsletters, tailored boxes of fresh and long-life produce and equipment, technology for digital inclusion, hygiene support and more, thus benefitting wider communities.

Very early on in the pandemic our Development Team reached out to our key partners asking, how can we help you/what do you need? The team triaged and assessed needs, created bespoke physical/digital content, hygiene support, online health information sessions and training days. This enabled us to create additional food box supply chains and, with one staff member supporting one partner organisation, we supplied and supported NKS, Pilmeny Development Project, MILAN, The Crannie and the Ripple Project.

Family supported via The Ripple project in Restalrig

In addition to this the team also accessed additional funding streams to enable us to further support partners. For example we secured funding from The Carluccio Foundation, LifeCare, The Food Train, Port of Leith Housing Association, Port of Leith Housing Association, Soil Association to supply increased amounts of food, provide training and develop and run novel online projects.  


BME Development work

We have long had close relationships with a number of Edinburgh BME charities (such as MECOPP, Sikh Sanjog and NKS) and we have since developed new ones. Through conversations it became clear that some service users were not able to engage with Vulnerable Groups Food Network. As a result we began to supply our partners. Following on from initial food box delivery feedback from BME partner organisations’ service users we worked to target the boxes and information content to make them more culturally appropriate. We created an online consultation survey and shared it with key partners. We used the resulting data to adapt our boxes. We also shared the data, setting up two Zoom sessions to do so with our BME partners (for example, NKS, MILAN, MEHIS, ELREC and Sikh Sanjog). This has enabled us to further reinforce our relationships and – as part of this – we have also trained nearly 100 BME service staff, volunteers and service users in REHIS Food Hygiene and Food & Health.