Food Train, a voluntary service which provides weekly food shopping, handyperson, meal-sharing and library services to older people in their own home, has a very positive relationship with West Lothian Council and NHS via the Health and Social Care Partnership.
West Lothian has a very active seniors’ forum, supported by the HSCP as part of their commitment to really responding to what local older people want and need. As part of their engagement with this forum, commissioners realised that their in-house shopping service wasn’t quite working; this led them to approach the Food Train directly for assistance. The Food Train pulled together a proposal, including costing details, and funding agreed.
That was the start of what has proved to be a long and fruitful relationship. Food Train has now developed further services in West Lothian, in partnership with the Seniors Forum and HSCP. The funding for these additional services have actually come from savings made through having the agreement in Food Train itself: as Food Train’s weekly shopping service took off, the need for the frozen meals service reduced. The money saved has now been directed by the seniors’ forum to a handyperson service, also carried out by the Food Train.
This relationship has been in place now since 2010. Regular feedback is sought from the Seniors Forum on the value of Food Train in West Lothian, and due to their satisfaction levels, the service is continued. No fuss, no drama, no new expectations or burdensome evaluation. More talking and negotiating, rather than formal commissioning and procuring.
Because of the success of this service, the Food Train was more recently contacted by the library service of the council. They’d had problems with finding a taker for a library book delivery service they were looking to contract out, and had been encouraged by council colleagues to contact the Food Train to see if they could help. Chief Executive, Michelle Carruthers, was very clear at the outset that they’d consider whether or not they could design a service that would both fit with the organisation’s aims and also would work to the available budget. This open conversation – as opposed to the transactional nature of a classic procurement process (where a service is defined by the buyer, who then seeks bids to run that service) – led to the Food Train taking on the council’s library book delivery service, adding to it the option of volunteer readers, who come and read to the older people in their homes.
It is this kind of open, conversational relationship, with the weekly food shopping and handyperson service, and with the library service, that allows the Food Train to get on with what they do best for the benefit of older people in West Lothian, all at a fair cost to public sector partners.