A mobile greengrocers’ delivering fresh fruit and veg to ‘food deserts’ and communities hit by food insecurity across Liverpool and Knowsley has been launched.
The new Queen of Greens bus-shop is a pioneering initiative to boost access to healthy food and help tackle health inequalities.
It visits 29 stops each week including schools, health and community centres including Fazakerley hospital, providing people with better opportunities to shop for nutritious food closer to their home or workplace.
The route takes in neighbourhoods classed as ‘food deserts’, including areas of Everton and Kirkby, where residents have to travel more than a kilometre or walk 15 minutes to reach a supermarket selling ‘green’ produce.
Launched as families face huge financial challenges this autumn and winter amid the cost-of-living crisis, the bus also visits communities hard hit by food insecurity, and where barriers to food access have been identified following community consultation.
Customers can pay for their shopping with Alexandra Rose vouchers, and Healthy Start vouchers for pregnant women and young families at all stops, as well as cash or card.
The project is thanks to a unique partnership between charities Feeding Liverpool, which is leading the city’s Good Food Plan strategy to create a city where ‘everyone can eat good food’, and Feedback Global’s project Alchemic Kitchen, with funding from Feeding Britain.
The partners worked with Liverpool City Council, local NHS providers, NHS estate consultants gbpartnerships, Liverpool and Sefton Health Partnership, Community Health Partnerships, Knowsley social housing provider Livv Housing Group, and the Alexandra Rose charity, to ensure the route reaches a wide community audience.
The aim is to help reduce health inequalities and improve nutrition and life chances, by making it easier for people to access healthy food close to their homes and workplaces, and it is hoped more stops may be added in future.
Only 1 in 2 adults in Liverpool eat their five recommended fruits and vegetables each day, only 12% of children aged 11-18 eat their five-a-day, and it is estimated a third of adults in Liverpool are food insecure – where food is a source of worry, frustration, and stress.
Both Everton and Kirkby are among the ten most economically deprived food deserts in England, and most of Knowsley (77% of the borough) is currently classed as a food desert.
The shop runs Monday to Friday and also includes stops in Anfield, Walton, Fazakerley, Kensington, Edge Hill, Belle Vale, Toxteth, Kensington, Wavertree, West Derby, Picton, Aigburth, Speke, Garston, Halewood, Aintree, Knotty Ash, Huyton, and Prescot.
The project partners funded the purchase and refurbishment of the former 24-seater Iveco coach, transforming it into a fully kitted out shop.
The exterior is decorated with a fresh fruit-inspired artwork by schoolgirl Leema Alzu’bi aged ten, from Toxteth, who won a competition run by the partners to have her artwork turned into the logo, by Liverpool design agency NonConform.
The bus is operated day-to-day by greengrocer Paul Flannery from Dingle, who has run the ‘Red Apple’ bus as an independent local business for the last ten years, giving him an insight into growing needs serving local communities, particularly through the pandemic.
The project is enabling Paul to expand his business and route, retiring the Red Apple bus and leasing the new Queen of Greens bus from Feedback Global for a peppercorn rent. His new route visits more stops, strategically designated to reach more people, and meet the project goals.
The bus also carries recipe cards with ideas for healthy meals people can make on a budget, and Paul encourages shoppers to buy in amounts they can afford; and even try a taste of unfamiliar produce before they buy.
Everyone is encouraged to shop on the new Queen of Greens bus regardless of income, to help champion better local food provision and support the venture as a viable business long term, with the potential to expand in future.
Similarly, to a traditional greengrocers’, the Queen of Greens bus prioritises stocking local and seasonal produce where possible including produce from farms in Lancashire and Cheshire, with a focus on quality and choice.
The bus will also help reduce the environmental impact of people’s weekly shop by reducing the need for shoppers to travel, reducing packaging, and selling food in small amounts so people buy only what they need and can afford.
Dr Naomi Maynard, Programme Director for Liverpool’s Good Food Plan and Feeding Liverpool said:
One in three adults in Liverpool is food insecure, meaning food is a source of worry, frustration and stress; this situation is only set to worsen as food and fuel prices escalate.
One of the contributing factors to poor nutrition and unhealthy diets is that access to good food is limited in some parts of the city, with some neighbourhoods classed as ‘food deserts’ much worse affected than others, while in Knowsley three-quarters of the borough is a food desert.
It means people end up relying on food that is more readily available close to their home or work, and often that is not the best option for both their finances or their long-term health or the health of their growing children.
The Queen of Greens bus is part of a long-term solution to helping reduce health inequalities and improve nutrition and life chances, by making it easier for people to access healthy food in their communities whilst supporting sustainable local businesses.
The stops have been chosen to target some of the city region’s food deserts where access to good food is particularly poor, and have been developed in consultation with local health and community partners.
This is not designed to be an emergency provision – we still need urgent action to support people’s incomes amid the cost-of living crisis, however we are pleased to have been able to facilitate for the bus to accept Healthy Start cards, and Alexander Rose vouchers at selected stops, helping to reach low-income families who are experiencing particularly tough challenges right now.
Professor Matt Ashton, Director of Public Health for Liverpool City Council and lead DPH for the north west’s Food Active healthy weight programme, said:
The Queen of Greens project is a fantastically creative and collaborative approach to helping tackle one of the most pressing challenges facing our communities today, and Liverpool City Council is delighted to be supporting it, as part of the Liverpool Good Food Plan, working to create a city where everybody can eat good food.
Providing a more accessible supply of fresh groceries closer to people’s homes is a vital step on the way to helping tackle health inequalities, and improving nutrition and wellbeing for local children and adults.
Lucy Antal, North West project manager for Feedback Global’s Regional Food Economy and Lead for Food Justice, said:
Food justice means equal opportunities to access fresh food no matter your income or location.
We’re all about making food systems fairer for people and planet, and at the moment they are not, with nine retailers currently holding 96% of the UK food market share.
We are interested in how we can help people access fresh food so they have choice, and opportunity for nutritious food that doesn’t impact other people or the planet.
So fair wages, food that’s in season, locally available and supports people. It’s about trying to re-localise food supplies on a more human scale.
Lucy, winner of the BBC’s Food and Farming Awards Community Food Champion 2021, added:
For some families, poor access to fresh food creates a reliance on processed food and what’s available in their immediate area, and part of that is to do with time as well as income.
If you don’t eat well you won’t learn well, if it you don’t learn well you won’t earn well. If you don’t get the vitamins and minerals you need your brain and body won’t develop properly, you’re hungry in class, you don’t get the grades, you don’t have the jobs.
This about offering an opportunity to households in places where at the moment they may struggle to purchase fresh food locally.
Keenan Humble, Development Manager for Feedback Global’s Regional Food Economies North Programme which carried out community consultations to help map the route, said:
The Queen of Greens bus enables people to have better choice, to eat a more nutritionally balanced diet, and also to experiment.
Paul will sell people the quantity they need so you don’t need to buy a whole sack of something if you don’t know if your family will like it. So it gives choice and helps empower people in their own diets.
In supermarkets when they do five fruits for 20p that’s a loss leader, we can’t compete with that price and we are not trying to, but we are competing where people would have to travel bus taxi or car. We are trying to keep things at market stall prices and the focus is on accessibility and quality.
It’s also about community and bringing people together in places where they can talk about food, the bus has a real social atmosphere with people are chatting to each other, and that’s also really important for people to have a place to mingle.
Paul Flannery driver of the Queen of Greens bus, said:
I’ve been a greengrocer all my life and I’ve got to know communities all over the city and I know what different people in different communities like to eat and what they need.
This is a brilliant opportunity for us to reach more people with fresh fruit and veg. People don’t want to have to travel far to do their shopping and often they can’t because of work, or childcare, or they can’t afford it.
This means we can meet more people close to where they live and work. The bus has got a real sense of community about it, we really found that in the pandemic, people loved coming out and having a chat, it gives them a lift in the day, and that’s good for their mental health too.
People like trying the different produce. Sometimes if they’ve never had something, like a kiwi I can give them a taste before they buy it.
Or if they can’t afford a big bag of something I can sell them a small amount, not like in a supermarket where you might have to buy a whole pack, but they might not be able to afford it that week, so I can sell them a little bit.
Schoolgirl Leema Alzu’bi aged ten, from Toxteth, who won a competition to have her artwork turned into the Queen of Greens bus logo, entered as a participant in a Holiday Activities and Food (HAF) programme at the Al Ghazali community centre on Earle Road last summer.
The bus will be taking fruit and vegetables to people who can’t get it close to their home. I feel very happy and very proud that my drawing will go to help something good.
Andy Muir, Northwest Regional Director for Community Health Partnerships and LSHP (Liverpool and Sefton Health Partnership) Director said:
The Queen of Greens bus will travel to twelve health and wellbeing centres around Liverpool and Knowsley, selling affordable fresh fruit and vegetables to the patient’s and healthcare workers within the centres – which are often located in areas where it is difficult to access good quality, cost effective fresh produce.
With the cost-of-living crisis across the country, healthy foods have become lot more expensive than junk food, so for families on a budget buying unhealthy food seems the better option to save money.
The Queen of Greens project will go some way towards helping families all over Liverpool and Knowsley live a healthier lifestyle in an affordable way.
I’m really excited about this valuable service expanding to serve the patients and staff who attend and work out of Liverpool and Sefton Health Partnership’s LIFT (Local Improvement Finance Trust) buildings.
Never has this been more needed and the project will help a lot of people within vulnerable communities in staying healthy and fighting the obesity epidemic by selling affordable and healthy fresh fruit and veg every day.
Amanda Newton, Executive Director of Customer Insight at Livv Housing Group, said:
Livv is a housing provider, but we also play a key role in supporting the people who live in our homes with the challenges that they face in life beyond the home.
We’re constantly engaging with our customers to get their feedback and unsurprisingly, one of the issues that’s troubling people recently is the rising costs of food.
We’re working closely with Feeding Liverpool to focus on how access to good quality and nutritious food is one of the foundations of good health and wellbeing.
We’re thrilled to be able to bring the Queen of Greens to our customers’ doorsteps.
Providing them with access to fresh and affordable ingredients each week, all year round, is going to make a massive difference to the people and families that live in our communities. It’s easy, convenient and also minimises waste as they’re buying the exact amount that they need.
The uptake from our customers since the launch of the service has been brilliant to see and we’ve heard from so many of them already about how much they’re enjoying it.
We’re working on with Alchemic Kitchen and Feeding Liverpool as part of our Food in the Community programme and Queen of Greens is just one example of the work being delivered on the ground. We’re looking forward to continuing to work together to address the challenges that are faced in our communities as part of our community investment programmes.
The project partners say if successful, they would like to grow a fleet of Queen of Greens buses, to help refocus the local food economy towards a more ‘people and planet centred’ approach, and away from reliance on big supermarkets.
Lucy Antal added:
We need to see long haul system change.
If we can encourage people to eat more fruit and veg because they have access to it, then we can encourage farmers to produce more locally, we can ensure the demand is there to enable farmers and growers to look more at the local market.
The bus will prioritise local supply where possible, and also a focus on seasonal produce. It is very similar to a traditional greengrocers or the mobile food services one many of us remember from childhood. We are looking to the past to create a better future.”
The message to everyone is to use this, use your spending power to support it, so we can build a fleet of mobile market stalls!
View a map and timetable of the Queen of Greens stops at www.feedingliverpool.org/queenofgreens