Nicole Kennard with mask and box of food

Foodhall: Sheffield’s community hub responds to lockdown food shortages

Grantham Scholar Nicole Kennard at Foodhall
Grantham Scholar Nicole Kennard volunteering at Foodhall.

Foodhall is a community hub in Sheffield. Before COVID-19 Foodhall’s main focus was as a community cafe and kitchen, ‘managed by the community, for the community’. Communal meals were made from surplus food donations, on a ‘contribute what you can’ basis. The surplus food came from local traders, and may otherwise have ended up as waste. 

In response to the lockdown Foodhall has dramatically changed its operations. They now deliver hundreds of meals, and food boxes, to people all over Sheffield every day. They focus on those who are most at risk and isolated.

Two Grantham Scholars – Nicole Kennard and Phillipa Hughes – volunteer with Foodhall. We talked with them to find out more about this amazing local project. 


Foodhall is supporting those at-risk and experiencing food insecurity during the COVID-19 pandemic with food parcels & prepared meals. Donate to their campaign here.


People may not have heard of community cafes – can you tell us a bit more about Foodhall? 

Nicole

Foodhall is about tackling the issues of food waste and social isolation. It is a community space that aims to bring people together around food. Also, the people at Foodhall are all on the same level, there is no hierarchy and there is a fluid structure. There are a few part time paid staff and the rest are volunteers.

If people have an idea they are encouraged to do it, so what goes on alongside the community kitchen changes a lot. We’ve had parties, pottery classes, guitar classes, movies, bike workshops, art installations and lecture series. The first thing I volunteered at was a History of England through folk song event!   

How did Foodhall adapt so quickly to the problems in Sheffield around access to food that COVID-19 created? 

Nicole 

The fluid and democratic structure of Foodhall made it easy to switch to emergency food delivery systems this quickly, even though we have never done it before. We started delivering parcels the very first week of the UK lockdown!

It required a complete transformation of the space – which is usually more like a cafe – to a warehouse for packing parcels, stacking food, and organizing deliveries.

Phillipa

COVID-19 has changed the way we work. Now we have to use more distinctions between people who are volunteering and people who need food support, which is a shame. But we know that we need to be informed about how to work safely, so we can keep people safe. 

Who can use the new service?

Nicole

The foodhole
The foodhole-in-the-wall at Foodhall – where people can collect food directly.

Anyone can. You just need to call the helpline or show up at Foodhall’s ‘foodhole-in-the-wall’ which is essentially a take-away parcel service. We are very intentional about not doing any means testing, we have just made clear that this is meant to be an emergency parcel service. We are therefore hoping to help people who may not have access to other emergency food services, like food banks, for one reason or another.

We currently use the front of house service for pickups – there are about 100 a day from the front of house. And we’re also feeding 100 people a day from deliveries (which is about 35-40 parcels / deliveries). We have had to cap the number of parcels each day, because to maintain social distancing we only have 2 people packing in the warehouse. 

How has social distancing changed this community space? 

Nicole 

Foodhall is a social eating space – normally it’s about about bringing together. People come have a meal or go to an event and then may join in as volunteers. We want to bring the community in. 

Now we have changed a bit – obviously we can’t share a meal together anymore. But we still want to bring the community together, so, for example, we’re collecting recipes for our prepared meals from people who use the service and from volunteers. 

Phillipa 

Limitations and rules are hard because it’s antithetical to how we work. Usually would let people come in or hang around the space but now have to be strict. 

Nicole

We could use more volunteers but we have had to cap numbers of people to allow distancing. If people want to volunteer then we need drivers and cyclists for deliveryMe and Phillipa don’t work in the kitchen, we do helpline and warehouse work. 

And now Foodhall has a focus on wellbeing. If people call and sound anxious we will refer them to our wellbeing team (part time paid staff) who will call them to check in. We also have been trying to add letters to some parcels so it feels more personal. At the start of lockdown we noticed that the helpline was busy as people wanted time to talk as they were lonely and worried. 

The foodhall warehouse
The Foodhall warehouse where Nicole and Phillipa volunteer.

Where does the donated food come from?

Nicole

Food supplies are about 60/40 bought vs donated, though this changes a lot. Supermarkets, restaurants, and bakeries all donate and we get government food too. We are also coordinating the collection of government food parcels. And the council is drops off food for us to distribute. 

Has volunteering at Foodhall helped you to feel part of the community?

Phillipa 

It definitely helped me feel like I’d moved to Sheffield rather than to the university. I worked in London before, and it’s very easy to move and become part of the ‘uni bubble’. But it feels like more than that now. Foodhall is a good centre of community.

And Foodhall doubles up as many things. Once in for one thing people then have access to lots of services and events. For example, we have a benefits cafe. But Foodhall doesn’t exist for people to get stuff but for people in Sheffield to help each other – a true community space.

Nicole

Since joining Foodhall I feel more connected to Sheffield than I have in the last two years. And especially now that I can volunteer more consistently during lockdown, since I am travelling less for research. It is really nice to talk to people who are not at the university. And it is so easy to connect around food. 

I found this in Atlanta too, where I volunteered at an urban food project. Cooking together and sharing meals is one of the best ways to share about you and your culture and to connect with people.

And has it had an impact on your research?

Nicole

For my project I am interviewing farmers in the UK and US to do a life cycle assessment (sustainability assessment) about the environmental impacts that come from different ways of growing vegetables on different types of farms. 

At Foodhall I have gotten more ideas about food research from a social science perspective. I’d love to do a research project with Foodhall and I have been talking to other volunteers about it. It would be around experiences accessing food during lockdown. I also want to understand how to make people feel more like a part of a community at Foodhall, and what the barriers to that might be.


Look at Foodhall’s website for for more information – including how to volunteer and details about their helpline.

And you can donate to Foodhall through their Crowdfunder


Photographs of Nicole Kennard by Nina Weatherburn.