A project to investigate the suitability of food hubs to mitigate food poverty resulted in the established of new hubs in urban deprived areas and a national support network for other communities trying to set up their own programmes.

The project, entitled “Exploring the potential of Local Food Hubs in deprived areas: Enhancing Knowledge Exchange for developing best practice guidelines” was awarded funds from N8 AgriFood to address one of the major social problems of contemporary British society, food poverty.

The majority of organisations combating food poverty on the ground are small-scale social enterprises, operating on shoestring budgets, with limited capability for innovation, evaluation and development. N8 AgriFood allocated £29,602 to a team of researchers from Lancaster University, who led the project with colleagues from the University of Sheffield and Newcastle University, to research the social, health, economic, and environmental impact of Food Hubs in deprived areas.

Under the co-ordination of an existing online platform, run by the Open Food Network (OFN), community-based organisations The Larder, Northshields Community Centre and Myatt’s Fields Park came together to pilot the OFN local food hub model in deprived areas in the cities of Preston, Newcastle and Lambeth in London. The N8 AgriFood research project was developed in collaboration with these non-academic stakeholders and brought together an interdisciplinary team of expertise from sociology, psychology, economics, geography and computer science in order to assess the potential and the limitations of local food hubs to address issues of poverty in deprived areas.

The project now counts several success including the publication of an Action Pack to guide other organisations looking to establish a food hub, and a £250,000 Big Lottery Funding win for project partners in Preston with a view to up-scaling their local food hub model based on the principles of the Preston Co-Operative model.

When the project started food hubs did not exist in either Newcastle or Preston. Local stakeholders wanted to pilot hubs in deprived areas of these two cities under the guidance of the Open Food Network UK. By the end of the project, there is now:

  • One Hub in Newcastle – ‘Northshields Food Hub’ that, after the pilot study and experiment, is aimed to be re-branded as ‘Tyne Fresh’
  • Two Hubs in Preston – Grimshaw Community Centre Food Hub and Intact Community Centre Food Hub
  • One new hub with Plungington Community Centre in Preston (due to start soon)
  • Two new hubs in discussion with Burscow Farm and Gateway Housing Association
  • Two Courses of Cookery Classes in Sion Community Centre and Farrington Community Centre

Project lead Dr Katerina Psarikidou, said: “The N8 funding has been a catalyst for developing close collaborative and trust-based relationships with our non-academic partners, as well as expanding our collaborative relations with a wider network of stakeholders working with the hubs.

Our research has attracted a lot of interest at a national level. Our research surveys and outcomes have been communicated to several networks of UK-wide local food stakeholders, including Sustainable Food Cities and the Soil Association, Sustain, Food Research Collaborative, Open Food Network, and features in relevant newsletters.

Our survey reached a total of 29 food hubs operating at a UK level who participated and expressed interest in our current and future work.”