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As well as being a human necessity, food has an amazing ability to bring people together, strengthen connections and enrich communities – both physically and mentally.

95% of adults in Great Britain have reported an increase in their cost of living and for people in the North East, food poverty is a very real concern, especially as the cost of living crisis hits communities still recovering from the pandemic.

Little Sprouts, based in Stockton-on-Tees, offers services across the local area to ensure that local people have access to nourishing food, community spaces and collective hope.

Planting the seed

Founded in 2014, Little Sprouts began by offering catering services to private nurseries in Stockton and the surrounding areas. Over the years, the organisation has expanded to provide cooking workshops in schools and community cafes after identifying a need to support and educate those who needed their services.

Emily Ayer, Community Champion at Little Sprouts, explained: “We work closely with our partners to ensure that cooking is used to bring communities together.

“The project allows us to share skills, reduce isolation and break down many social barriers, whilst providing a benefit to overall health and well-being.”

Giving back autonomy

The organisation’s community shops, which run three times a week, have enabled visitors to have access to affordable essentials as well as giving people back their autonomy – something which is often stripped away during times of poverty. 

Anyone can access the community shops – with no referral needed – and can pick up free surplus goods as well as purchase food and toiletries priced at four items for £1.

Alongside offering the basics needed by every family, the project aims to ensure it caters specifically to the communities it operates in. 

Emily explained: “We have been able to develop one of our community shops in partnership with Amal Project Teesside [Community Group supporting vulnerable BAME families & individuals] so that we can offer culturally specific foods to ensure we are meeting the needs of the community.”

Bringing people together

As well as the community shops, Little Sprouts operates several lunchtime projects, one of which enables residents of Hartington Road to have a free lunch once a week. 

Emily continued: “As well as the obvious benefits of a free hot meal, the café provides a safe, warm space for people to gather and keep in touch with the staff of New Walk CIC [local social housing organisation], who support the residents – the vast majority of whom are battling addictions and have multiple health problems.”

Another such lunchtime project is the weekly lunch club at the community hub on Havelock Street in Thornaby, where visitors can get a nutritious two-course meal for £2.50. 

The project’s commitment to support is matched by its commitment to education. Emily explained: “We are invested in up-skilling the community and have cooking sessions available twice a week free of charge and we deliver an accredited Level 2 course in Food Hygiene.”

Building on success

For Little Sprouts, the support from County Durham Community Foundation has been instrumental in supporting the project’s sustained growth. “[The Foundation] funding supported and contributed to the cost of a driver which sustained our COVID response surplus food and distribution hub.

“This enabled us to collect and distribute surplus food from supermarkets and manufacturers that would otherwise go to landfill or animal feed.”

“We strongly believe that this project was the springboard to establishing the Community Hub at Havelock Street, which enabled us to build trust within the community and for them to become more familiar with us.”

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