COVID Brings New Life to Food Hub Project

Tuesday, December 8th, 2020

With the effects of the coronavirus crisis taking a huge toll on the construction industry, we have a story where it has actually helped a project get off the ground.

The Food Hub project is an innovative food distribution system aiming to increase the accessibility of sustainable food, reducing wastage, food miles and costs whilst supporting local producers and small businesses. It was set up by Duncan Catchpole for the Cambridge area and two years ago, he asked us to design a building for them, which was to be part of a new business park. As well as the food distribution centre, it was to provide low cost rentable kitchens to encourage the production of local produce, collaboration, enterprise and employment, and a café and shop to act as a focal point for the community but, sadly, the business park didn’t go ahead so the project ground to a halt.

However, the idea had caught all of our imaginations and we stayed in touch. The building we designed echoes the sustainable approach of the client’s food distribution system. Instead of a one-off building, we used digital technology to create a ‘kit of parts’, using readily available components that could be sourced anywhere in the country. Plywood sheets, supplied in standard sizes, can be cut on site using a CNC machine to a pattern that can be downloaded. It is essentially a self-build project using locally sourced labour and readily available, off-the-shelf materials. It can easily be replicated and assembled anywhere, with the design allowing for variations in site conditions and constraints. It is a prototype that can be rolled out across the country in terms of both flexibility of design and construction method – a highly sustainable, affordable ‘shed’ that is very much in keeping with the ethos of what the actual Food Hub does – the supply of sustainable produce.

In July, we got a call from Duncan wanting to take the project forwards. During the coronavirus crisis, people have relied on food delivery businesses and there has also been a big move to support local produce. Because of this, the Cambridge Food Hub’s vegetable box business has flourished and, on the basis of that, they have been able to put aside some money to fund the building. Duncan is now in the process of looking at sites with developers in order to get the first stage of the project moving and the concept is on its way to reality.

The first stage will be in Cambridgeshire but the vision is to connect with other people who have an interest in the local food ecosystem and sustainable building to build a network across the UK.

If you know of other organisations or communities where this type of local, sustainable approach would be relevant, then we’d love to hear from you at f.clark@david-miller.co.uk.

For more information about the project and an animation of the self-build process, click here.

Duncan has developed some very innovative techniques in local food supply chain coordination, which are being implemented at the Food Hub and you can find out more about them here. He has also written a book describing the concept, called ‘Local Food Ecosystem; How Food Hubs can Help Create a More Sustainable Food System’, which will be published by Janus publishing early in the new year.