Many of you know our wonderful Senior Food & Health Development Officer, Chris Mantle.  This year, Chris celebrates his ten year Edinburgh Community Food anniversary! We've asked Chris a few questions to take a look back at the past ten years.  

What made you want to work for Edinburgh Community Food?

 "I’d been studying Nutrition at Queen Margaret University for a year or so as a mature student when I learnt about Edinburgh Community Food. My friend and I - keen not only to use some of our new knowledge but also to start ‘giving back’ and to learn something about the sector – decided to volunteer. For the remaining three years of my degree, I volunteered on several community co-op and hospital stalls, of which there were quite a few in those days. This would involve setting up a wee stall in a community centre, sheltered housing association or hospital, selling produce, chatting to customers and getting to know the local community. We also held informal information sessions and would try our best to speak to people about healthier choices and nutrition.

Initially, I’d thought to become a private clinical nutritionist but I quickly realised that advising the worried (and well-off) well to eat more fruit and veg wasn’t quite what I wanted to be doing with my life. In part through volunteering, I realised I was much more passionate about supporting vulnerable or low-income people and communities. What was the point of gaining all this nutrition knowledge if I couldn’t support those who needed it most? And the more I learnt about ECF, its aims and values, the more I wanted to be a key part of it.

After I graduated I moved to London for a year but when a job at ECF came up I leapt at it!"

How did you feel on your first day at Edinburgh Community Food?

"This is going back some years now (!) but I can just about remember feeling nervous, of course, but also excited. I started on the same day as another new colleague and we both walked into the back office where everyone was very friendly and welcoming. We were shown our desks and somewhat elderly computers and off we went."

Has Edinburgh Community Food changed much over the years?

"The organisation has changed enormously over the years I’ve been here! We’ve gone from being almost entirely paper-based, using ailing technology to being very ‘tech’ (and try finding a scrap of paper in the organisation to scribble on!). We’ve moved from attending gala days and outdoor events with a smoothie bike to training Council and NHS staff in Nutrition. We’ve taken over the neighbouring warehouse and doubled in size, supplying hugely increased amounts of locally sourced fresh food to households and businesses. Our teams, once working essentially in silos, are now one, working very closely together.  It was long an aim of ECF to be a ‘go-to’ organisation for people looking for trustworthy support and training around food & health and as our health messages and Nutrition content have become increasingly robust I feel that’s really something we’ve achieved. I do think that now ECF is well known and well regarded, both across Edinburgh and nationally, and that we’re recognised as experts in our fields. Finally, I think these ‘fields’ have really broadened out. Where once we were concerned solely with Nutrition, healthy cooking and the supply of produce we now encompass areas around mental health and social inclusion, digital inclusion, food waste and carbon/plastic reduction, sustainability (we have a brand new electric van!), fuel poverty, income maximisation and dignity and our network of partners has grown accordingly. I also feel we’re more directly supportive of communities and the individuals within them. We have ever-strengthening ties with multiple communities and, thinking of individual support… one thing that I loved was when, at the very start of the pandemic, our Chief Executive said words to the effect that: ‘We will turn NO ONE away. No one is going hungry if we can do anything about it’. And I’m pleased to say that we have indeed turned no one away.

One thing that hasn’t really changed is the passion and commitment of the people who work here, or in fact their friendliness. Sometimes – and it’s a lovely feeling – ECF feels like a big, close - albeit it slightly mad! - family. I’ve known some of my colleagues for a quarter of my life, know they care and I know I can ask for help if I need it. There may be the odd quarrel and occasional frayed temper but on the other hand, there is certainly lots of laughter and hilarity, plus empathy and support if things outside of work are difficult."

What’s your favourite memory so far from working at Edinburgh Community Food?

"Now that’s a very difficult question as there are so many! So many wonderful groups, courses and events… I can’t pick a favourite. I’ll mention two areas I love: firstly, it’s running training courses (yes, even Food Hygiene), imparting knowledge and learning and meeting so many fascinating people from all walks of life. Secondly and building on this it’s the relationships you develop with community members, with people you may work with over weeks, months or years. I feel we inhabit a space somewhere between professional and friend and it’s so enriching (hopefully for the community member too!)."

What’s your favourite thing about working at Edinburgh Community Food?

"My favourite thing is the team and what I wrote above, this sense of family, caring for each other and our capacity to care for and support others."


Describe Edinburgh Community Food in 3 words!

"Edinburgh Community Food is supportive, caring and dynamic."


Thank you.