A new tourism initiative aimed at tackling food poverty in Belfast
was launched today by Visit Belfast, the city’s official destination management and marketing organisation.
The sustainable tourism-focused 'Changing the Menu. For Good' project will enlist venues, caterers and event organisers to directly raise funds for local food banks, including The People’s Kitchen.
A variety of ways to donate are in place to allow event organisers to choose a method that suits their event, with four headline options; donating the financial equivalent of a fourth course, donating a proportion of catering costs incurred during an event, rounding up delegate or catering fees or donating directly.
The scheme, which will run as a pilot into next year, is designed to drive more responsible and sustainable events, to promote social impact and legacy within our local communities, in addition to the economic benefit tourism already generates.
Like elsewhere in the UK and Ireland, demand for food banks is growing in Belfast, in the last five years, the need for food banks has increased by 128% and organisations including The Trussell Trust, which manages 14 food banks across the city, and the independently-run The People’s Kitchen which tackle food poverty and homelessness, need more support than ever before.
The ‘Changing the Menu. For Good’ initiative is already supported by a group of founding partners in the event industry; Hastings Hotels, Titanic Belfast, Hospitality Belfast/Yellow Door, Food NI, Conference Partners International, Crowne Plaza Belfast, Event-ful and Queen's University Belfast.
Belfast's tourism and events industry has been a catalyst for growth and regeneration, establishing hundreds of new businesses and enterprises and creating many thousands of jobs that support livelihoods right across the city region. Visit Belfast Chief Executive, Gerry Lennon, said:
“Tourism has played a pivotal role in Belfast’s growth, vibrancy and economic wellbeing in recent years. By working collaboratively and creatively, Visit Belfast and our partners and stakeholders have identified targeted ways where the sector can continue to contribute positively to the city’s social well-being, and help tackle food poverty amid the cost-of-living crisis.
This important initiative is part of our long-term commitment to deliver more sustainable events, drive regenerative tourism growth that leaves a lasting legacy which has our people and their needs at its heart.
“Funds raised will be used for food parcels, hot food and drinks, homeless outreach and for delivering emergency financial support to cover heating bills or essential supplies for those in need. It means everyone is playing their part and we look forward to more partners joining us to ensure its success” he added.
The six-month pilot initiative was launched on 31 August 2022 with an event at 2 Royal Avenue Belfast, in partnership with The People’s Kitchen.
Speaking at the event, Paul McCusker, founder of the independently run charity The People’s Kitchen that provides support to over 1,000 of the most marginalised and vulnerable people in Belfast weekly said:
The vital work of The People’s Kitchen is more important than ever, we are currently dealing with and servicing unprecedented demand, with over 1,000 meals served and 500 food parcels provided in the city per week. However, there is still so much work to do to reach the most vulnerable in our city.
“It’s no longer just the homeless that are relying on the service, as the cost-of-living crisis hits, we are seeing increasing numbers of families and people with poor mental health in need.
"As an independent charity, we rely heavily on supporter funding, initiatives like Changing the Menu. For Good, are invaluable and crucial to ensure we can deliver the immediate support required. The team at Visit Belfast has shown great support for our organisation - to have an initiative like this in place will help us look ahead and better forecast how best to support those in need."
We need urgent action to continue our service, and I’d encourage all businesses and stakeholders holding events in the city to look at how they can get involved, any level of support will make a difference.
Chief Executive of Belfast City Council, John Walsh added:
“Our city is facing complex challenges as we recover from Covid, with the cost-of-living crisis impacting upon the most vulnerable in our city. The reliance on food banks for many of our citizens has increased significantly in recent weeks which is why this initiative from Visit Belfast with support from city partners including Belfast City Council is both timely and a positive step in the right direction."
I sincerely hope this scheme grows and gains momentum over the next few months so that local food banks including The People’s Kitchen can continue to meet levels of demand and cater for those who are in immediate need.
Visit Belfast is targeting a significant number of business events, gala dinners and conferences booked in the city, and event organisers already on board include, PHUSE EU Connect (The Global Healthcare Data Science Community), Business Travel Association and The Northern Ireland Tourism Alliance.
It is hoped that as the scheme grows, and more conference and event organisers get involved, local food banks and the vital work of The People’s Kitchen will get the support they require to help those in immediate need.