“This is what resilience looks like on the ground” said Kath Dalmeny, chief executive of Sustain speaking on BBC Radio 4 about the work Greenwich Co-operative Development Agency (GCDA) is doing in partnership with the local authority and a community trust to ensure that vulnerable people have enough to eat.
GCDA has redeployed nearly half of its 34 staff to ‘work on the front line’ sourcing and packing hundreds of food bags. Also, its high-spec commercial kitchen, which is usually hired to catering businesses, is preparing over 300 cooked meals a day for delivery to vulnerable people.
Although Kath Dalmeny was praising a particular initiative, her words could well describe GCDA generally because it is one of the UK’s longest established and most successful social enterprise development agencies that has survived many crises, although none as severe as the current one.
GCDA was set up in 1982 with the aim of supporting the establishment of community owned, democratically managed businesses to create employment, local economic opportunities and protect or provide local services.
Over the last 38 years GCDA has adapted to major changes in the funding of support agencies by being agile and entrepreneurial. In 2010 GCDA established its own business start-up centre which houses a number of food and health-related businesses. GCDA also runs cafes and community hubs on a contractual/subsidised basis and provides specialist catering and food business support across England.
CEO Claire Pritchard, who has been with GCDA for 18 years, said: “Nowadays we have very little grant funding. More than half our income comes from contract work in the public sector, much of it to do with health and food, and most of the rest comes from our own business activities.”
GCDA delivers contracts and works in partnership with several local authorities, NHS trusts and social housing organisations. Last year it:
• Ran 560 cookery clubs
• Provided 8,440 holiday meal provisions for 400 children
• Ran over 700 physical activity taster sessions and held 1,131 walks.
• Provided community meals for over 1,000 people.
• Provided training for 55 community groups and 233 people
• Put on health eating demonstrations for 1,000 people
• Supplied affordable fruit and vegetables to over 150 families and 50 early years nursery children per week.
• Helped 15 new businesses with affordable premises and business.
• Put on food growing sites and support seminars with 500 people attending
• Ran 8 regular sites with organic food growing
• Revitalised Woolwich Common Community Centre – 57,000 visits from 19 community groups, tackling isolation and poverty
• Hosted 17 businesses at GCDA Head Office.
Over the last five years GCDA has taken out three loans from Co-op Loan Fund to help smooth the inevitable cash flow problems that come with developing new ventures.
Ian Rothwell of the Co-operative Loan Fund said: “GCDA is a highly entrepreneurial agency that has adapted and grown in a sector where many have perished. Although it now has an annual turnover of over £1m it still needs that flexible help that Co-op Loan Fund can provide, and we are very pleased to give it.”
[photo by Claire Pritchard: 200 healthy food bags for vulnerable non-shielding residents, packed by GCDA working in partnership with the Royal Borough of Greenwich and Charlton Athletic Community Trust.]