SUS-CHAIN: Case Studies

UK: Cornwall Food Programme sustainable food procurement in the National Health Service

The start point of the network that was to develop into the Cornwall Food Programme (CFP) can be traced back to 1999, when the then catering manager of the Royal Cornwall Hospital (RCH), Mike Pearson, began to problematise the issue of hospital food provision within Cornwall. He believed in the high quality of Cornish food and was concerned to retain the potential benefits associated with 'localising' hospital food procurement within the county of Cornwall, in order to help counter its geographic peripherality and economic marginalisation. Concurrent with these early ideas, were catering capacity considerations at the RCH, huge seasonal fluctuations in the demand for local food produce associated with tourism, and a patient writing indignantly about eating sandwiches from the north of England. This led to the commissioning a feasibility study (FS) to explore the options for future catering needs at the Royal Cornwall Hospital Trust (RCHT) with the possibility of extending this to all five Cornish New Health Systems (NHS) trusts. The FS recommended building a Central Food Production Unit (CFPU) on a dedicated site. This proposal appealed to a range of external stakeholders to get engaged.

The next phase of network building revolved around how to take the outcome of the FS forward, which involved two main issues. First, developing a local food supply chain. Second, generating support for the investment needed to build the CFPU. The appointment of a Sustainable Food Development Manager in 2004, with a brief to identify sources of local and organic produce and to facilitate collaboration and the linking up of existing supply chain actors in the region, has considerably increased the supply of local and organic produce to the CFP. At the same time, the CFPU had to be planned. As funding has now been secured for the CFPU, it hopefully will for open in April 2007.

Critically, the two main strands of the CFP are completely interdependent: one cannot work without the other, at least not on the scale proposed. If funding is not forthcoming for the CFPU, the CFP will be unable to extend the RCHT model to include the whole NHS in Cornwall. Similarly, if it proves impossible to get sufficient producers and suppliers to participate in the network, they will be unable to source the volumes required, and will need to continue sourcing the majority of their food supplies from outside the county.

The main positives of the CFP are: it has widespread support at a local, regional and national level; access to Objective 1 funding; enthusiastic, dynamic and charismatic individuals involved in the initiative; with the large-scale funding now a realistic possibility, it has the potential to provide a large-scale boost to the sustainable rural development of Cornwall. The main negatives of the CFP might be: an over dependence on dynamic and charismatic individuals, as well as on Objective 1 funding; it has considerable potential, but is highly dependent on the successful completion of the CFPU.

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