This blog is written by Bethan Thomas, Community Development Manager at Merthyr Tydfil Housing Association
At MTHA, the tenants and the community are at the heart of what we do. The pandemic was no different. The challenges that the community faced were nothing that we had ever seen before, and as a borough, a range of partners came together to support those who were at their most vulnerable. The issues of food poverty intensified during the pandemic, and as a result we have seen the strengthening and actioning of the Merthyr Food Prosperity Network.
Prior to Covid-19, MTHA ran a community food coop that provided affordable fresh fruit and vegetables. Buying directly from the wholesaler, we sold vegetable, fruit, salad, oriental and stew packs at cost price to our customers. The pandemic put a halt on this, but we adapted to support our most vulnerable tenants, through providing free FareShare boxes delivered to their door. As we transitioned a little from lockdown in the late summer of 2020, we began to look at the model that we had previously ran, alongside that of what we ran during the pandemic. It was through this that we developed Ty Pantri.
The learning that we had developed in those first six to seven months of lockdown enabled us to develop a better understanding of some of the barriers that our tenants and other community members were facing in accessing affordable, nutritious food. For example, many of our tenants don’t drive so having the freedom of consumer choice to shop at low-cost supermarkets, such as Aldi and Lidl, was non-existent. This would entail an awkward bus journey, probably with their children in tow, and thus adding further to the cost of food. The big delivery supermarkets such as Asda, Tesco, Sainsburys and Morrisons, became unaffordable with a minimum order of £30 for many of these companies. As a result of this, many of our tenants and the wider community were being forced to shop at the local convenience stores, where prices were far higher and there is far less choice of foods. Consequently, we looked to build a hybrid pantry model that could offer affordable fresh fruit and veg, as well as a staples box that was delivered to their front door.
Across the borough, My Pantry models were emerging. They offered customers a choice of ambient and fresh goods and used FareShare and connections with local supermarkets to support their stock levels. Our model was drastically different to this, as we could not offer a fixed premises to hold a shop. Our model combined the traditional food coop model that we once run, backed up with an ambient food box, that we supplied through our FareShare Cymru subscription. All these goods would be delivered to the customers front door.
Our prices are as follows:
- Essentials Box = £5 (see photo at the bottom of this blog)
- Fruit bag = £4 (see photo above)
- Sunday Dinner box= £4
- Oriental pack =£4 (see photo below)
- Stew pack = £2.50
- Fresh Free-Range Eggs = £1 ½ Doz or £2 a Doz.
We accept Healthy Start Vouchers for payment of the fresh fruit and vegetables, and we have seen many parents, access our service this way. Our prices allow us to part cover costs of biodegradable bags and boxes and cover the fuel costs for delivery.
The pandemic has taught everyone that we need to adapt our services to keep up with the current needs of the community. As we now face the highest cost of living crisis since records began, once again, MTHA must adapt. With our tenants facing the highest fuel prices seen, we must work with them to ensure that they are not forced to choose between heating or eating. Working with a local trusted partner, the H Factor, they will adopt our model, as well as strengthening it to support the community of Merthyr Vale and Aberfan. This will enable our staff to work directly with our tenants to ensure that their money can go further, in what is new unprecedented times. A significant part of this work will be signposting them to Ty Pantri model, as well as the many local My Pantry’s that are located across the borough.
MTHA established Ty Pantri so that tenants and other community members would not be forced to crisis point and have to access the foodbank. Ty Pantri was hoped to be a sustainable solution to addressing some of the food poverty issues within our community. The experiences that we have gained in establishing Ty Pantri and working with a local trusted partner for them to take over, has created an ambition for us to work with other local trusted partners, so that we can support them to develop a similar model within their community. This will ensure that we can all work together to help reduce food poverty and for the community not to have to chose between heating and eating.