Paul Brookhouse, an avid Liverpool fan, is the Project Manager for the Derby Food 4 Thought Alliance - his role has been key in supporting people in Derby with food provision throughout the pandemic and beyond.
How did you come to work in this field in Derby?
I’ve worked in communities for around 27 years. I was working in Birmingham but my dad became ill and so I moved back to Derby and was based in Allenton where I did my training in youth work – at the time Allenton was one of the top 50 deprived places in the country. I was involved in youth work since the age of 19 until the last 10 years – so 17 years of youth work.
I originally wanted to be a bank manager, if you can believe it! I got accepted by Barclays on a management course but pulled out at the last minute as they placed me in Newcastle and I didn’t want to move up there.
I’ve worked in Derby now for around 19 years. For the last 10 years I’ve worked in supporting people around poverty and deprivation in local communities. That included setting up The Hope Centre, one of the first foodbanks in the city, and I partly set up the Winter Night Shelter with Derby City Mission which I ran one day a week in its first year as well as working at The Hope Centre.
I put together the safeguarding training for the city around gangs. I wrote it and delivered it in the city at the time. And most recently, ever since the pandemic, I’ve been involved in the Derby Food 4 Thought Alliance – a busy old 19 years!
When did the Derby Food 4 Thought Alliance form?
Originally, there was a Food Networking Forum which was coordinated, in part, by Guy Freeman of the British Red Cross. In March last year a steering group was put together as part of the Community Hub to look at the whole response to the demand for food and to ensure people were supported during the time, and that’s when I got seconded into the role of coordinating all of that.
As time went on we recognised there was an opportunity to look at the need for long-term support and at the end of June 2020 Food 4 Thought officially came to life. To focus on the support the community needed we identified four themes for the Food 4 Thought Alliance to address.
What are the four themes?
First, there’s the emergency theme, which is obviously around emergency response – whether it’s someone who has been made homeless, whether someone has been a victim of crime and is without money – whatever it may be. It’s that very quick, short-term emergency support side.
Second, there’s assistance, which is all about longer-term support. It’s about helping people where food is part of the solution, not seen as the solution. In the longer term this will include community shops and a whole host of other initiatives.
There is also the community aspect, which we’ve not been able to move forward with because of Covid. It’s basically about all the community projects that are supporting people for whatever reason – whether it’s mental health, loneliness, whether it’s just a get together kind of social thing, which food is a part of.
The last one is all about initiatives - anything that is linked to food but that is a new idea. For example, allotments, we’re looking at how we best utilise them around food provision. We’re looking at a whole host of things around recipes and around community shops, which is going to be one of the new initiatives.
What’s the plan for Food 4 Thought going forward?
The big plans for Food 4 Thought going forward are the community shops – that’s a big one. There’s the community theme and working on some of the initiatives to do something a bit different. We want to make sure that a lot more signposting and support is offered and made easily available, to ensure that the need for access to food is reduced. Importantly, we’re going to have to start fundraising again, because after the next 12 months we’ll obviously need to build up the budget.
One of the other things we’re excited about is working in partnership with Sacred Bean, a Derby social enterprise specialising in ethically sourced coffee that works with socially excluded people. We’re working together to open a café in our new premises at the Shot Tower, which will be a real community focal point. It will work really well with the Volunteer Centre, which is also based in the Shot Tower, so volunteers and members of the public will be able to get a take-out coffee or actually sit in once restrictions are lifted. It’s going to be great to have a Sacred Bean coffee shop in the city.
And final question: what are your thoughts on the Good Neighbour scheme and the work they’ve done across the city?
As part of the whole Community Hub, the Good Neighbour side of it has been huge. Without people in the community we wouldn’t have been able to achieve the things we’ve done and now people in the local community have others they can call on.
For instance, there are around thirty bungalows at the end of my road and I decided to knock on doors to check that people were OK. The very last one I knocked on, a woman said to me, ‘You’re the only person who has ever knocked on my door in 20 years who hasn’t come here for a reason.’ You know, like a workman or something like that. And you look at that and think that’s just sad. That she’s never felt that there was someone from her own street she could ring if she was in need. A couple of weeks later she rang me about something.
I think that’s what the whole Good Neighbour concept is about – about having someone locally that isn’t seen as someone in a position of authority, or it’s not their job, but actually it’s a member of their community who just wants to help.
So I think it’s a valuable and important thing that’s come out of it, and I think we need to look to expand and grow the concept of it. For example, when people’s gardens need doing – if the people are not mobile and can’t do it themselves, it would be great to have people in the local community who could offer to cut somebody’s lawn, or do other jobs. And I think it’s crucial to keep it going, to expand it.