How TAWS brought Brum Together

Since the pandemic started, Loaf has been baking for food banks and primary schools, helping people who’ve fallen into food poverty. Some, such as the Trussell Trust food bank network, have been operating throughout the age of austerity. Others have sprung up to address a newly urgent need. 

Prior to the pandemic The Active Wellbeing Society (TAWS) had little to do with food banks. They’re a co-operative funded by Sport England and Birmingham City Council, working in areas of high deprivation to tackle inequality and promote community wellbeing. With many of their programmes shut down or limited to phone and internet services, they revisited their values to see what they could best do.

As often happens in an emergency, there was a strong desire to help. At Loaf we briefly considered establishing a Stirchley food bank before realising we were better positioned to supply those who actually knew how to run one. We also fielded countless offers of help from individuals keen to give their newfound free time and maybe salve the sense of helplessness that was rampant last spring. 

TAWS’ immediate response was to set up a WhatsApp group of their peers and make everyone an admin so they could add more people. With the support of a city council stretched to its limits and fuelled by a sense of “if not us, who?”, a plan started to emerge. 

Under the banner BrumTogether, a food distribution hub was established at Ladywood Community Centre which it rapidly outgrew, moving to and filling the cavernous Aston University Students Union building. Meals were prepared at the Aston Villa ground kitchens with ingredients sourced from supermarket surpluses. Food parcels were collected in bulk by small-scale community organisations which knew where they needed and these were then distributed by a vast army of volunteers. 

Alongside the immediate need for food, other important services were provided. TAWS set up a befriending service for those experiencing isolation and loneliness, and used their contacts with GPs to identify people in need of help.
The skills and resources were out there. All that was needed was co-ordination, which TAWS were able to supply. The BrumTogether network looked like a top-down, blanket approach – it was anything but. By responding directly to needs and empowering people rather than leading, the network remained agile in an ever-changing emergency, catching people who fell through the gaps of the broad-strokes national strategies. 

You can read more about what BrumTogether achieved in this end-of-year reflection.

As you might imagine, the experience of being part of BrumTogether has been transformative for TAWS, but they feel they’ve never lost sight of their mission. The means of delivery might have changed, but the core aim didn’t: meeting communities where they are and working with them to design the solutions they need. 

BrumTogether is now the Birmingham Food Justice Network. Supported by TAWS with 70 active member organisations and many more waiting in the wings, it seeks to learn lessons from the pandemic to build a better future. Food parcels are a temporary approach to an emergency. They should not be normalised. What’s needed is long-term sustainability and systemic change to ensure no one in this city goes hungry. National campaigns and initiatives are good, but lasting change needs to be built from the ground up. 

The network is made up of many different organisations with many different structures, but the whole thing feels like a co-operative with no one group taking control. The way TAWS have co-ordinated the network means the co-op values and principles infuse the network. Or maybe they just make sense. It’ll be interesting to see if and how they filter through to the member organisations. 

TAWS are up for Inspiring Co-op of the Year which feels very apt. They used the toolkit of the co-operative movement to build a dizzyingly vast democratic network with no leaders which was able to respond to needs at a micro-local level. If that’s not inspiring, we don’t know what is. 

Thanks to Beccy from TAWS for her time answering our questions. You can find out more about their work at

Loaf, Building Community Through Food

As a social enterprise Loaf was set up with the purpose to promote good food and healthy living in communities and build community through food . This means putting our profits towards social projects, primarily in our local community.

This month we welcomed year 6 children and parents from our local Stirchley Community School on Pershore Road to Loaf Cookery School for their very own bread making workshop. The afternoon was a huge success and as teacher Karen Sweeney said “They had an amazing time! The children they were raving about it!”. With three year 6 workshops in total, and comments shared that it was one of the best workshops we’ve ever been to, we’ll take that as a thumbs up! In June we also hosted an enjoyable bread workshop with adults who are deaf and hard of hearing through the work of national charity deafPLUS.

For more Stirchley Community School workshop photos visit their school website – you may even spot a few familiar local faces.

Stirchley Community School Bread Workshop at Loaf
Year 6 pupils, parents & teachers from Stirchley Community School enjoy making bread at Loaf

Parents & children from Stirchley Community School at Loaf
Parents and children from Stirchley Community School at Loaf

We also offer occasional work placements to individuals with a passion to develop a professional career in baking, which this month included Megan Jones who is studying for a Diploma in Artisan Baking at the prestigious School of Artisan Food.

Megan Jones on student placement at Loaf from The School of Artisan Food
Megan Jones on student placement at Loaf from the prestigious School of Artisan Food

Loaf reaches new heights

This month Stirchley featured in the May edition of Brussels Airline’s bthere magazine.

Described as a ‘destination for creativity, comedy and exciting cuisine’, it included us at Loaf and celebrated other local community food and arts initiatives such as Stirchley Community Market. Stirchley seems to be making a name for itself – not only in the UK, but now internationally!

To read more visit the be the b there website or download the full magazine as a pdf. We’re on page 74.

Brussels Airlines bthere Magazine - May 2013
Brussels Airlines bthere Magazine – May 2013

Abundance Birmingham

apples going to waste
Apples going to waste - Northfield, Birmingham

A month or so back I heard on twitter about a new project called Abundance Birmingham. I’d been following the progress of ‘Abundance Sheffield’ for a few years now, so I wondered if these were connected. To my joy I discovered on their website, that Abundance Birmingham is indeed a community fruit distribution project in the vein of the Sheffield project. This is taken directly from the about page:

“Abundance Birmingham is a voluntary run project that collects and distributes soft fruits that grow unharvested around our city on trees and bushes in both public and private spaces.

Fruit is distributed to groups, volunteers and the local community.  Damaged fruits are turned into juice, preserves, jams and chutneys. Any money raised is put back into the project to help with running costs. We are also creating a detailed reference map of Birmingham with location and tree information for future harvests.

As part of the project we aim to raise awareness of the great abundance of local tasty and healthy food that is available for everyone and for free!”

It’s great to see this project starting in Birmingham, and Loaf will be offering any support we can to help promote it to a wider audience. If you have a fruit tree in your garden with surplus fruit, or spot one growing wild, let Abundance Birmingham know by emailing abundancebirmingham [at] gmail [dot] com, or tweeting them.

Interested in Connecting Food and Community?

Sustain and The Soil Association are putting on a free event in Birmingham on the 28th April all about setting up and running food co-operatives and buying groups – It’s a must for anyone that’s into community food initiatives. I’ll be there, as will South Birmingham Food Co-op. You can find out more about it on the flyer below.

Birmingham food event flyer2

PREPARE for a bumper harvest

After reading Hungry City, with it’s (rightly) sombre view of our current food system, I was in need of a bit of a pick-up; something to cheer the heart, warm the soul, and offer a little hope of a better way. Fortunately the next day I heard about PREPARE, a community fruit harvesting scheme to use surplus fruit from gardens and common land. When I heard it was in Birmingham, I nearly fell off my seat on the number 11 bus!

prepare applePREPARE is the brain child of Eleanor Hode, artist in residence for the ward of Erdington. Eleanor says the aim of the project  “is to harvest, process and distribute unused fruit growing in peoples gardens and on public land and to get it eaten! Either as fresh fruit or processed into juice, jams and pickles that are given away to local people”

Eleanor, who’s based at Kingstanding Leisure Centre, has got some funding from Birmingham City Council for the project and has got together most of the necessary equipment for harvesting (A bike and trailer, picking stick, 2 picking bags, sheet of plastic, storage boxes etc), and has had a positive response from local residents so far. However she can’t do it alone, so is on the look out for some keen fruit spotters, pickers, and processors, especially from the Erdington area. Of course there will be plenty of fruity perks for volunteers!

Later in the year Eleanor is planning to plant some fruit trees on 2 sites in the area and to throw an event for Apple Day on Sunday 25th October at Kingstanding Leisure Centre. There’ll hopefully be lots of activities, music, and some apple juicing on a press she’s planning to make. Loaf is planning to show our support, and will certainly let you know all about it on here. Eleanor is also on the look out for a top apple expert to identify varieties and share their knowledge on Apple Day, so if you fit the bill, or know anyone who does, get in touch with Eleanor (see below), or leave a comment on the blog and we’ll pass it on.

If you’re interested in similar initiatives it’s also worth checking out the ‘Abundance’ project in Sheffield that’s been doing similar things for a couple of years.

If you’d like to get involved with the project, you can email or get in touch with her on 07974 934 917. Eleanor also has her own page on the, and there’s a flyer below (click to enlarge):