Local Food programme generates £7 for every £1 invested
In this blog Professor Paul Courtney, of the Countryside and Community Research Institute (CCRI) at the University of Gloucestershire, explains how the Big Lottery funded Local Food Programme is generating real value for society beyond its original remit of making locally grown food accessible and affordable to local communities.
Building on the CCRIs wider evaluation of the Local Food programme, a Social Return on Investment (SROI) analysis was undertaken to establish how many £s of value are generated for every £1 invested in the programme.
Three case study projects took part in the SROI – a ‘Community Growing’ project, an ‘Enterprise’ project and an ‘Education and Learning’ project:
Growing Well in Kendal is a farm-based community enterprise that supports people to improve their mental wellbeing by involving them in a range of activities in the organic growing business. This award-winning project is also a City and Guilds centre training participants in horticulture. In addition, through its Crop Share scheme, Growing Well supplies local families with fresh season vegetables.
Growing Greenwich is a community project building upon existing food growing projects and partnerships to promote local food and community cohesion. The project operates in a number of local farms, schools, allotments, parks and community centres. Volunteers are involved in roles ranging from growing, cooking and distributing food to running community cafes and events; enabling them to learn new skills.
Get Growing in Stroud has created growing spaces in 22 schools in Gloucestershire and has supported them to set up gardening clubs to involve pupils in food growing and cooking and to educate them about food production. Most children participating in the project have said they have a greater understanding of healthy food and now eat more fruit and vegetables.
The researchers first met with a range stakeholders and beneficiaries from each of the three case study areas to help understand the main outcomes of their project, and how one outcome might lead to another in a ‘chain of events’.
For example, knowledge of food growing and provenance then leads to improved diet and in turn improved physical health over the longer term; while reduced social isolation through volunteering can lead to an increased sense of belonging leading to improved resilience and self-esteem. These benefits are highlighted by feedback from participants, for example, one volunteer at Get Growing said: ‘Often I feel so bad I don’t want to do anything but after coming here, working with my group in the sunshine, I always feel more cheerful. They are my friends now.’
Next, we conducted surveys to measure improvements to mental health and well-being and included questions around food expenditure and the extent to which people have reduced their supermarket spend in favour of more local food procurement, for example through fruit and veg box schemes, as well as their Local Food allotment.
In the final stage, financial proxies were identified in order to assign a monetary value to each of the outcomes. So for example the unit cost of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy was used as a proxy for improved mental health, and average weekly household food spend was used to approximate the improvements to food affordability as a result of the programme.
The findings revealed that, based on the three case studies involved, every £1 invested in Local Food (including not only the grants but also the value of volunteer time and other in-kind contributions) is generating just under £7 for society, representing a 700% return on investment for Local Food.
The positive impact of Local Food projects is far reaching. The value of the initial investment made by Big Lottery Fund is being returned directly through training, education and skills, with the majority of additional benefits attributed to health and well being, community benefits in terms of increased participation and vibrancy, impacts on the local economy and improved food affordability.
Through helping people and communities to shape their own future, Local Food is generating real value for host communities and for wider society.
Local Food is one of a number of environment focused initiatives the Big Lottery Fund has invested in. Earlier this year, the Big Lottery Fund announced its latest environment funding programme – Our Environment Our Future – which will invest £30m in supporting young people to improve their local environment and to gain skills to equip them for jobs in the green economy.