Food is essential for health and wellbeing; its production and consumption have important impacts on society and the environment. In the UK, people have become increasingly disconnected from food with negative implications for access to affordable and nutritious food, physical and mental wellbeing, our local economies and the environment.
Despite the UK being one of the world’s largest economies, 8.4 million people were reported to be food insecure and have a poor diet in 2014. This is the biggest risk factor for early deaths worldwide and leads to 1 in 7 deaths in Britain every year.
Throughout the UK, pioneering communities at every scale, from community groups through to entire city-regions, have recognised the role food can play as a catalyst for change in addressing key social, economic and environmental challenges. Food partnerships have emerged in our cities with them being supported and connected via the national Sustainable Food Places network.
Urban farms and gardens are changing the way people access food and open spaces in cities. Groups are working together to address food poverty – not just the emergency need, but the wider systemic issues driving patterns seen in lack of access to good, nutritious food.
In many cases, a lot of this work has sprung from grassroots initiatives with communities taking their relationship with food and right to good food into their own hands. Increasingly, partnerships between different sectors of the community, civil society, business and universities have developed to bring a more integrated approach to designing a resilient and fair local food system together.
Across the N8 AgriFood programme, there is already a breadth of collaborative research with community, voluntary and third sector groups working on these issues. Research in this cluster includes:
- Tackling food poverty and addressing health challenges around food.
- Developing a resilient local food economy from producers through to food citizens.
- Working with local food partnerships to embed a sustainable and resilient food culture within the local business and community sectors, and impact policy.
To support and build this activity, N8 AgriFood acts as a knowledge-sharing hub between N8 researchers and practitioners working to improve access to sustainable, nutritious food in communities across the North of England. By sharing what is being done around these themes we are in a position to develop new collaborations and make links between different initiatives and research projects currently underway. Importantly, we can explore how universities and research can better support the activity of food partnerships and other community, voluntary and third sector groups.
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The York Food Justice Alliance
The York Food Justice Alliance was founded in April 2018 by Dr Maddy Power, University of York and Adrian Lovett, Chair of Good Food York, of which N8 AgriFood is a member. Between April 2018 and June 2019, the Alliance co-produced a research report, written by Dr Power and a film on food poverty in York.
The Alliance also coordinated food and activity provision during the school holidays, documenting and evaluating the programme.
Evaluating the impact of community junk food cafes
An N8 AgriFood pump primed project involving the universities of Manchester and Liverpool sought to evaluate the impact of community junk food cafes on public health, deprived communities and food waste in the North West. In collaboration with The Skelmersdale Junk Food Café, researchers conducted interviews with customers and those running the cafe to determine the additional public health benefits provided by Junk Food Cafes over and above reducing food waste.
Understanding risks to food supplies at city level
Increasing concerns about the impact of both Brexit and climate change on food supply chains have prompted the need to look at food supplies and procurement practices at the city level. City councils and food partnerships have expressed the need for a greater understanding of the risks to food supplies and the benefits from building up greater resilience in local supply chains.