Many community-owned pubs, shops and other businesses stepped-up to support the isolated and vulnerable within their towns and villages, providing food parcels, direct deliveries, ensuring a local supply of essentials and providing a vital connection within the community. However, though much needed, this activity exposed fundamental flaws in the UK’s current food system which result in injustice and inequality for many, including entire rural communities and especially those on lower incomes.
Food is more expensive and less available in rural areas with the majority of rural residents having little or no choice but to travel. In the past ten years we’ve seen 4,000 village shops close, 3,300 rural bus routes have been cut and 50% of rural residents still experience poor digital connectivity – limiting online grocery shopping. Those with poor health, low income, without access to a private vehicle or people living alone struggle to find local food that is healthy, nutritious and affordable.
Many rural retailers were let down by the centralised wholesale systems and were unable to access the most basic goods and supplies. There are few regions or even counties producing sufficient diversity of goods to cater for local self-sufficiency, but there is a growing interest from communities wanting to reverse this trend by setting up community-owned farms and agroforestry, wishing to embrace mixed farming practices and by being able to source and sell locally produced food.
The development of community-owned businesses which focus on the production, processing and retailing of food and drink could provide the potential for a fundamental shift away from internationally sourced food and place communities at the heart of local food systems to improve fair and equal access to fresh, healthy and nutritious food for everyone.