Toolkit: hot meal provision for groups

2. Identifying the need for provision

It's important to consider the needs of the local community and understand services already operating in your area.

You could:

Area research

It's useful to research your desired area. That way you can find out where your service would be best placed and who your guests are likely to be. This will ensure that you're set up in the right location and you know how to reach your audience.

If you're applying for funding it can also be useful to show that you understand the level of need in the area and how your service would add value. For details of potential funding sources see Resources.

You should consider:

  • identifying the most deprived wards in the area. For example, by using the Indices of Multiple Deprivation Map
  • finding the key spots for engaging people who are socially isolated and vulnerable to loneliness. Age UK has some great resources including a loneliness map
  • the existing provision and how to avoid duplication. Research this by contacting your local Community Board Manager, the council's Food Support Coordinator or the Buckinghamshire Food Access Meeting Group. Or check the Bucks Online Directory
  • identifying the best area for travel. The area should be easily accessible for guests and volunteers. Check if there are local public transport links or transport schemes that residents can use
  • how well connected the area is for surplus food. Use Google maps to search for 'supermarkets' or 'grocery shops' and speak with local food support organisations to ensure donations are distributed fairly

You can find demographic information about local areas on the council website or using census data. This will help inform you how to tailor your service to your local community.

You should consider:

  • age
  • ethnicity
  • nationality
  • religion
  • language
  • migration status (such as the asylum seeker population)
  • household composition
  • health


Think about what you need in terms of a venue and equipment.

You may want to consider if your venue offers the following equipment and features:

  • a semi-commercial kitchen
  • a 6-hob cooker
  • other cooking equipment and appliances
  • food storage - ambient or fresh
  • a dining space
  • tables and chairs
  • accessible building entries and facilities
  • storage for FOH items
  • waste management

It's also important to consider costs and responsibilities. Make sure you have these discussions early on and agree on:

  • who is responsible for what
  • who is contributing to which running costs (and by how much)
  • who is renting the space

Types of venues

Common venues include community centres and faith groups. These venues are in the heart of many communities and are keen to offer free activities if there is a gap in their schedule.

You may also have suggestions from local connections you've made.

Potential issues

Potential issues you may encounter include:

  • venues preferring a voucher/referral scheme as opposed to an ‘open door’ policy
  • having limited surplus food nearby
  • having a small pool of volunteers nearby
  • having to reassure partners that you're not just parachuting in and ignoring the hard work they're already doing in the area

Food safety

To help you to comply we've created a list of resources and things to consider. But this is not an exhaustive list and regulations can change at any time.

To make sure you're acting correctly you should contact the Environmental Health Office at [email protected]

Food business registration

You should do this at least 28 days before you start giving out food to the public.

Register as a food business

Food safety training

At least the lead cook of each session must have level 3 food hygiene training. They will be responsible for ensuring all other helpers are sticking to food hygiene practices.

Book a food safety training course

Allergen control

Allergen control is important and you must have a list of allergen information available for anyone who is eating the food.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) offers:

The FSA also provides a template allergen chart and an online tool to help with food labelling.

Risk assessments and insurance

Risk assessments are important to work out how to deliver your session safely. You'll need 1 for the session. The venue manager must provide 1 for the venue too.

See Health and Safety Executive's risk assessment templates and guidance.

It's also important to remember your Public Liability Insurance.

Other food safety resources

Other resources include:


Your organisation may have volunteer policies in place already. But it's important to support and train your volunteers properly, especially as they may encounter more vulnerable people.

You should always avoid having staff working alone in your space.

For help finding volunteers, register with the Buckinghamshire Volunteer Matching Service. The service matches volunteers with roles where they are most needed in the county.

Visit the Community Impact Bucks Website for advice on managing your volunteers, including:

  • developing and advertising roles
  • developing a volunteering strategy
  • writing a volunteering agreement
  • supporting your volunteers' mental wellbeing

Staff care and safeguarding

Taking care of staff and volunteers is vital because they may be facing financial hardship themselves.

You could look at creating a peer support or buddy scheme. This would allow team members to discuss issues, concerns and frustrations.

Some team members may also be more vulnerable to Covid. The National Joint Council has agreed guidance with employers about how they should be supported.

It's important you give your staff and volunteers the confidence to interact with a range of people and to manage problem behaviour. They must be given clear instructions on how to call in extra support if necessary. You should also carry out an assessment of each staff and volunteer role to see if it requires a police check.

To highlight potential issues and try to prepare for them in advance, it's useful to carry out a thorough risk assessment. You will also need to double check to make sure that your insurance covers any new activity you take on.