Foodbanks and Films
Is it time to start talking about ‘long covid’ for communities, as well as individuals? There is increasing evidence, such as a recent report from Community Leisure UK of multiple challenges in reopening and staffing community venues and spaces. Many of the local groups that we work with in Regional Screen Scotland are reporting difficulty in recruiting enough volunteers to be able to get up and running again. Undoubtedly, a whole range of community activities and events have not restarted and many may perhaps be permanently lost.
We need an urgent national dialogue about this problem and what it may mean for long-term personal and communal health. But, is part of the problem that we lack the evidence, the metrics and even the language to appreciate and talk about the potential scale and impact of what’s happening?
As my field is community and local cinema let me cite one excellent example that we work with – the film screenings organised (pre-Covid) by North Ayrshire Foodbank. As Coordinator Craig Crosthwaite explains:
‘North Ayrshire Foodbank has been operating a mobile cinema project for 6 years. The aim is to address the aspiration of the Scottish Government to have communities experience a large screen cinematic experience. The portable system has been in use at a weekly showing in our own base in Ardrossan (pre-COVID) and at venues across the local authority including churches, community centres, libraries and schools.
The mobile cinema was funded for three-years by Impact Funding partners to recruit and train volunteers to operate the system (how to use the equipment, food hygiene, lifting and handling, DTP, photography and Pacific Institute’s “Steps to Excellence” for personal development), who then hosted 4 showings a year in their community. We recruited 11 teams who operated 44 showings a year (pre-COVID).
We are currently working on a Young Directors’ holiday project which started this October with the aim for the group to produce a 2 minute film during Easter 2022 which will be shown at future mobile cinema events.
We call our cinema sessions “Film for Food” where the aim is to raise necessary items for the Foodbank’s emergency food boxes. Attendees have donated 8 tons of food over the years of operation. Ultimately we use the mobile cinema to raise food, train volunteers, encourage film making and to entertain by screening top rated movies.’
Everyone who hears Craig talk about this work is inspired by the model and by the simple aim that you need to feed the mind as well as the body. But how do we translate this undoubtedly special project into the language of health professionals and policymakers? How do we evidence the health benefits of a film screening in a community affected by multiple deprivation factors? As Claire Stevens of Voluntary Health Scotland puts it:
‘I’m hoping there is a way the contribution can be framed or teased out so as to spell out more overtly the health outcomes for people. There will be health improvement benefits for the community, perhaps aligned to, or complementing the health and wellbeing outcomes that the Food Bank itself is generating? There will be benefits in terms of increased personal wellbeing, reduced social isolation and loneliness, perhaps reduced stigma (less stigmatising to use the Food Bank if it is also offering cinema), and wider public health benefits in terms of increased community capacity and resilience. It contributes to the government and public health’s aspirations to create and sustain 20 minute neighbourhoods.’
But, like thousands of other community initiatives across the country, North Ayrshire Foodbank is run by volunteers, working incredibly hard to simply deliver their core purposes and bring direct benefit to their communities. How do they find the time, the resources and the expertise, to monitor, evaluate and document the health benefits that I’m sure they see, personally and anecdotally, in ways that can contribute to a meaningful discussion about how best to tackle health inequalities in some of Scotland’s poorest areas? I’ve worked in the cultural sector for over 40 years and for most of that time the debate about arts and health has ebbed and flowed, and still the crucial question of evidence has never been resolved, even though we may need the answer more urgently now – post-lockdown, than ever.
Robert Livingston, Director, Regional Screen Scotland