Amidst increased demand for food banks during COVID-19, OLIO, the social enterprise and food-sharing app, and N/LAB, a centre of excellence for business analytics at the University of Nottingham, are transforming the UK’s ability to combat food insecurity.
Building on work successfully undertaken to date, the pair will leverage machine learning and OLIO’s proprietary data to create a ‘Food Poverty Map’, an interactive tool to pinpoint and track areas currently suffering from food insecurity or most likely to fall into food insecurity.
This solves a major problem for councils and local authorities currently fighting food poverty in their area: a lack of up-to-date and representative data. The new Food Poverty Map draws from OLIO’s real-time, anonymised data — enabling government bodies to predict, measure and proactively help those who are forced to skip meals or suffering from limited access to nutritious food.
OLIO and N/LAB will kick off Phase I of the project by building a proof-of-concept dashboard, funded through a £47k grant from Innovate UK, the UK’s innovation agency. This will be designed in conjunction with the London Borough of Havering, identifying specific requirements to address and prevent food poverty.
Tessa Clarke, co-founder of OLIO, said: “Over eight million people in the UK live in food poverty and suffer from its ill effects, from low educational attainment to high health bills. With the current pandemic, the stakes have never been higher to find innovative ways to ensure we all have access to the food we need.”
“Our Food Poverty Prediction Map enables councils and local authorities to support the most vulnerable in their communities by using real-time data to inform their decision-making. For the first time, they can truly be on the front foot to help the ‘hidden hungry’.”
“This proof-of-concept marks the first step in OLIO’s vision to not only reveal the true footprint of food poverty, but to also give local organisations real tools to combat it.”
Dr James Goulding, Deputy Director of N-LAB said: “We are thrilled to have the opportunity to support this project and play a part in giving access to better data on food insecurity to Local Authorities.”
Councillor Damian White, Leader of Havering Council, said: “Havering did an amazing job through lockdown to help respond to the Covid-19 crisis and protect our residents, supported throughout by all our incredible volunteers and the foodbanks, in particular.”
“The ability for local authorities to have access to real-time data concerning food poverty in communities would be very helpful. Participating in this pilot is a valuable opportunity for us to gain insights that will allow us to further support our most vulnerable residents in our community.”
Phase I will begin in October and conclude in December. OLIO and N/LAB are inviting more councils and local authorities to collaborate in the next phase, with the ability to personalise the Map to their needs. To participate in the project, please contact Anne-Charlotte Mornington by email on [email protected].