A week before the UK officially went into lockdown in March, the landlords of five independent Bristol pubs: The Plough, The Pipe and Slippers, The Red Lion, The Love Inn and The Star and Garter got together and collectively decided to make the difficult decision, that for the health of their staff and customers, they should close their doors.

However, they wanted to use their space in some way that would benefit the community around them. They realised that Covid-19 would isolate those who were shielding, and the economic effects of the virus would be devastating for those already struggling. One week after the pubs pre-emptively decided to close, the nation-wide lockdown was announced. The pub staff were furloughed, and the need for solidarity in the local community was higher than ever.

Community Care Package started as a small-scale reaction to this emerging crisis. Fearful of a lack of government or local council response to the developing situation and with time on their hands, the local pubs, along with the Easton Cowfolk, a community sports and social club, began buying fruit and vegetables and offering it to the community around them. Throughout lockdown the demand for this service quickly grew. Soon, Community Care Package were making up to 800 boxes, being delivered twice throughout the week.

It became a well organised operation, entirely run by volunteers. Angelo, the landlord of the Plough, Steve, a local DJ, and Jonny, a volunteer, arrive at the Fruit and Veg Market at around 7.30am. They pick out a range of produce, which varies week on week. They then deliver this by van to the pubs, where volunteers in protective gear are ready to carefully pack the produce into boxes. The boxes, bursting with fresh fruit and veg, are picked up by volunteer drivers, with a schedule of houses to drop off to. That same afternoon, the boxes are delivered throughout Bristol.

After lockdown ended, there was still a greater need than ever to provide this support, and as the pubs reopened, staff and volunteers from the community continued to give their time. The scheme currently delivers to around 400 homes every Tuesday. The boxes have reached people from all walks of life, all struggling to getting fresh produce. It has supported anyone caught in a precarious position, often where delays in government support fail to meet this need.

One recipient described her experience of lockdown as frightening. A local 62-year-old woman, isolating and unable to go to the supermarket due to her hip pain. After being introduced to the scheme by a friend, she described it as a “life-saver”. Community Care Package’s deliveries became a vital line of support for her throughout lockdown and beyond.

Another, Jane, has had weekly deliveries since March. As a private house cleaner, her work had entirely dried up during lockdown, so she became reliant on Universal Credit. She has never been able to afford much fruit and veg, as it was just too expensive.

She said: “It’s absolutely brilliant and my daughter who is a single parent also gets one so the whole family are all eating healthier meals.”

Fresh fruit and vegetables are often limited for anyone on a budget. Yet Community Care Package buy high quality produce in bulk in the local market, with each box averaging at £4 to put together. The service is free of charge, non-means tested, and entirely funded by charitable donations. The Go Fund Me page has now raised over £30,000 in donations, along with a charity Pilates class and a raffle which have helped fund the scheme. You can also pay £10 for your own box which will fund someone else’s. So far, over 17,500 boxes have been delivered to homes around Bristol.

Community Care Package are coordinated with other organisations providing vital support, including Aid Box Community, Project Mama, National Food Service and Base and Roses. Any fruit and veg not used in the boxes, is donated to these groups, so nothing is wasted. The action and solidarity of these groups has provided a fundamental lifeline for so many affected by coronavirus in entirely different ways.

Please watch this short documentary I produced for Community Care Package:

If you would like to find out more, donate, or get involved, please visit https://www.fundsurfer.com/crowdfund/community-care-package