Brighton & Hove City Council: Partnership action on the emergency food response

Brighton & Hove City Council is working with community organisations that share its goal of a healthy, sustainable and fair food system.

The initiative

The council was a stakeholder in the initial development of the Brighton and Hove Food Partnership (BHFP) in 2003, which now involves almost 100 partners – including 26 council teams.

BHFP is a non-profit organisation with 12 staff, nine board members and a structured volunteer programme, helping people to eat well, grow food, cook and reduce waste. It worked with the council to develop a food poverty action plan which became part of the wider BHFP food strategy, a framework for action.

An emergency food network was set up in 2013. Coordinated by BHFP it brings providers together to share, learn and develop joint solutions. The network has more than 45 members including food banks, affordable food projects and meal providers, together supporting more than 5,000 people each week. In 2020 the council set up the ‘Food Cell’, a cross-cutting working group which ensures that local food organisations can directly influence decision-making in the city.

Helen Starr-Keddle is Project Manager at BHFP and works one day a week for the city council as a food policy consultant, a mutually beneficial arrangement which began during the pandemic.

“It enables my council colleagues to work on the bigger picture issues, such as climate change, without getting side tracked by the short-term demands of emergency food. It helps the council understand what is happening within communities, and enables the food partnership to improve its knowledge of council systems and structures.”

Examples of emergency support

Responding to the cost of living crisis is a huge challenge, with far fewer resources available compared to COVID-19. “However, we have strong structures in place including regular food meetings, an affordable warmth steering group and a cost of living forum. Having that in place means we have lots of cross-organisational working going on that can help solve problems in the city.”

In 2020 BHFP secured £50,000 from the Big Lottery Fund to establish seven affordable food projects – membership schemes where, in return for a small fee, customers can access a larger amount of food sourced from surplus, donations and local farms. These offer a ‘next step on’ from emergency food. The projects have all continued to develop and are now financially independent. 

One unexpected success was a ‘crowdfunder’ council tax rebate and cost of living crisis appeal – a partnership between the council, Citizens Advice and BHFP. This initially provided a way for people to choose to donate their £150 council tax energy rebate. A link to the campaign was included when council tax information was sent out, and details were in a cost of living advice leaflet delivered to all households in the winter. The money goes directly to supporting vulnerable households – 60 per cent to Citizens Advice and 40 per cent to BHFP. By mid-December 2022 over £60,000 had been raised.

Paul Ross-Dale, Welfare Revenues and Business Support Manager, said this crowdfunder had taken on a life of its own.

“At first it was tied in with the energy rebates but the donations continued. It was quite a push to get that in place, but once we had worked out the governance issues and where it had to sit within the council, and made sure there was the political will for it, it has done well.”

Another innovation is the move towards ‘cash first’, with vouchers sometimes provided rather than food (for example at a food bank in a children’s centre). Electronic vouchers sent via text message can be used at most supermarkets. Some food banks are now giving vouchers rather than bulk-buying food. This gives individuals and families more choice and flexibility over the food support they receive. Vouchers were given to free school meal recipients over the holidays.

Paul said: “With the Household Support Fund [HSF] we have always taken the approach of ultimate trust in the organisations we work with. They know their client groups better than we do. Not everyone who needs support trusts the council or wants to go to the council, and we wanted to open as many doors as possible.

“We don’t add much beyond the DWP stipulations, guidelines and reporting requirements. We don’t put restrictions on how organisations can use HSF funding either, we trust them to do the best thing they can with it – as long as it fits the aims of the HSF.”

Learning points

  • Within the context of less surplus food, the partners are looking for new ideas on how to increase food and cash donations.
  • In response to this, schools were asked to collect food donations: 26 schools had initially signed up, and this is now being extended to local businesses.
  • Strong relationships and governance structures in the city’s food network mean that delivery partners can be flexible and adapt to immediate need, as well as working towards food system transformation.


For more information contact:

Helen Starr-Keddle, Food Policy Coordinator – Emergency Food