Crowdfunder responds to claim of ‘sitting on £60k’ raised to tackle food poverty

The Bristol Local Fund raised £60,000 to help community food projects fight food insecurity in our city

The founder of a crowdfunding project launched to tackle food poverty during the first lockdown has responded to claims he is ‘sitting on £60,000’ intended to be released four months ago.

Two Bristol charities, The Matthew Tree Project in Knowle and Baggator in Easton, have criticised the Bristol Local Food Fund (BLFF) for holding onto the money despite people becoming ‘poorer and hungrier’ since 2020.

Kind-hearted residents and businesses dug deep to help raise the £60,000 through the BLFF’s crowdfunding campaign, but those most affected by the cost of living in crisis across the city are yet to see a penny.

The BLFF had said the money would be awarded to groups in March this year - but it now says this will happen in the autumn, with the decision to where the money goes taken by those with lived experience of food poverty has proven complicated.

The Bristol Local Fund raised £60,000 to help community food projects fight food insecurity in our city.

Stuart Phelps, chair of Baggator which holds a weekly supper club at its premises on All Hallows Road, told BBC Radio Bristol: "It’s simple, we can produce a meal for somebody at three quid which covers all the costs and the overheads.

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“They’re sat on £60,000. That's 20,000 three course meals, enough to feed 20 people for a year.

“[It's] very frustrating because I'm looking at a situation where more and more people are entering into food poverty round here.

“And in the time it's taken for them to sit on the money since last Christmas, people have become very poor and very hungry. Sorry, it just seems that there are a lot of excuses.”

Mr Phelps said he recognised that Baggator wasn’t expecting to get a large chunk of the £60,000 raised or indeed any at all, adding: “But somebody would get it, and across Bristol that money could be spent.

“We're not the only food project and we don't expect to see all that money. I’m more than happy to see a very small part of it.

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“It's the principle that we've declared a food emergency and a cost of living crisis and yet somebody is sat on £60,000."

Responding to the claims, Michael Lloyd Jones, founder of the BLFF, said it ‘pained’ him the money hadn’t yet been released, especially with the cost of living crisis escalating ‘so wildly out of control’.

Mr Jones said had launched the project in 2020, during the first lockdown, and had a breakdown as a result as he struggled to juggle the crowdfunder along with a full-time job and family life at the height of the pandemic.

Now the BLFF, which is run entirely by volunteers, is just trying to hand out the money in the most ethical and efficient way.

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“We wanted to make the grant funding process more accessible when we launched in 2020,” said Mr Jones.

“The way we said we would distribute the money is through something called a citizen’s panel, which would follow a process called ‘participatory grant making’.

“That sounds like a technical term, but it’s basially where the beneficiaries have decision making power over how the money is spent.

“That’s actually quite rare - a lot of grant funding is very top-down and decided by the very wealthy.

“Whereas we wanted to create this panel of seven people with lived experience of food insecurity across Bristol.”

The panel will engage in a series of meetings starting in August before organisations are invited to apply for a portion of the funding, which it is hoped will be released in the autumn.

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The areas of Bristol that experience food insecurity the most severely will be ‘prioristised’, but Mr Jones emphasised that £60,000 wasn’t going to touch the sides when it came to solving the issue of food poverty.

”Let’s be clear, £60,000 sounds like a lot of money, but in the scale of food insecurity across the city and across the UK, it’s not going to be enough,” he added.

“We need action by national government. right now. The £60,000 will help but we need a far more strategic approach to our food system and to tackling food insecurity and to ensure communities across our cities aren’t left behind.

“We’d like to try and build that resilience in Bristol, but we’re not going to be able to do it alone - we need to be part of a whole city wide approach and a strategic national approach as well.”