Coleg y Cymoedd and Lidl join forces to tackle food waste and hunger

Coleg y Cymoedd has teamed up with supermarket chain Lidl to provide surplus food to learners who are struggling to afford or access food during the Cost-of-Living Crisis.

The college is part of Lidl’s Neighbourly scheme, which connects local charities and community groups with Lidl stores that have excess food to donate.

For the past six weeks, Wellbeing staff from the college’s Rhondda campus collect food from Lidl’s Ferndale store for learners to set up and oversee a stall in the college reception or Mez.

The stall is open to anyone who needs food, with no questions asked or judgement made. The food is free of charge, and even though learners have priority, no staff member in need of food will be turned away empty handed.

The food available varies from week to week, but can include bakery goods, fruit and vegetables, tinned goods and microwave meals.

The initiative has been a success for both the college and Lidl, as well as the environment. The college has been able to support its learners and staff who are facing food insecurity, while also raising awareness of the issue and reducing stigma.

Lidl has been able to reduce its food waste and carbon footprint, while also strengthening its ties with the local community. The environment has benefited from less food going to landfill and more food being consumed.

Two learners who volunteered for the stall as part of their Skills for Further Study course shared their positive experiences. Kelsey Cole, a 20-year-old from Ton Pentre, said she enjoyed meeting other learners from different courses and backgrounds. Chloe Kerlsake, an 18-year-old from Pandy, said the stall helped her boost her confidence and communication skills.

For some learners, the scheme has made a difference not only in their food security, but also in their outlook and wellbeing. One of them expressed their excitement to come to college every Wednesday and discover the variety of food on offer, while another shared how the donations have helped them bond with their family over wholesome meals, such as leek and potato soup that they prepared with the ingredients they received that week.

As a bonus, using any extra or uncooked ingredients, Professional Cookery staff have prepared dishes like mushroom and courgette arancini or soup in the training kitchens to give out to learners as hot, filling meals.

The inspiration behind the project were Wellbeing Officers Carolyn Owen, Caryl Rowlands and Darren O’Connell who saw that the food bank vouchers they gave out had a limited number of uses per year. The team launched the Neighbourly scheme at the college and were amazed by how many learners took advantage of it.

Carolyn said: “We have a strong sense of community at Rhondda campus, and we were thrilled to offer a new kind of support that learners embraced wholeheartedly, even if they usually hesitated to ask for help. When we first set up the stall, we spotted two or three learners hanging back, who now confidently join the queue and welcome us with a big smile.

“There is no shame or judgment involved in this. Learners come to the stand with their friends after classes and take home bread and vegetables for their families – something you don’t see every day. They care about their families, and it opens up positive conversations where we can provide more assistance if needed.”

Lisa Purcell, Assistant Principal for Learner Experience and Deputy DSP for Coleg y Cymoedd added: “At Coleg y Cymoedd we are committed to supporting and promoting the wellbeing of learners and staff and this initiative is just one we have that supports those who are experiencing difficulties.

“Our canteens on each campus donate food at the end of each day that would otherwise be wasted, and we also provided free breakfasts to all staff and learners during the cold winter months.”

Coleg y Cymoedd have published their Wellbeing Strategy for 2023-2026. Read more, here: https://www.cymoedd.ac.uk/learner-support/welfare-wellbeing/

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