1.1. Resilience and Capacity for Community Self-Organisation
1.2. The UK Neoliberal Context
2. Materials and Methods
2.1. Case Studies
2.1.1. Organisation A
2.1.2. Organisation B
2.2. Additional Data Collection
2.3. Data Analysis
3.1. How Poverty and Food Insecurity Intersect
At the minute prices are rising. The cost of living is increasing, and wages aren’t very high, and it’s just costing you more to live, and so you don’t really tend to have a lifestyle or social life because you’re that focused on accessing the food that you need to survive.(Organisation A, Coordinator)
One food charity operator who provides cooking lessons described children who did not know what grapes were because the parents could not afford them. The manager of a surplus food pantry confirmed that people often did not know what the food that was on offer was or what to do with the food they receive because surplus food often includes items that would usually be well beyond the affordability of people on a very low-income (for example asparagus or whole fish).We rely a lot on frozen food. It is very hard to eat healthy meals. It’s affordability more than anything. To buy fresh fruit and veg, each week. It goes off so fast, and you constantly are topping up. And you know it is expensive when you are buying strawberries at two pounds a go and fresh grapes at two or three pounds a go.
People tell you buying in bulk is so much cheaper in the long run. Look, there is no long run when you are living paycheck to paycheck. On top of that, I have no room to store this food before it goes bad.
While it is clear that people on low-incomes are aware of the advice, something also confirmed in the focus groups, and many are trying to integrate it into their spending, the savings to be achieved through good budgeting is beyond their capacity. As such, there is a premium that must be paid when your budget does not stretch to the level where the discount becomes available . One focus group respondent summarised this by saying, “Poverty charges interest”, which is becoming even more literal as food bank providers report people are increasingly using credit to buy food .And you go to the store planning to put that budgeting lesson to work. You read the signs and do the math. Which is the better deal? 500ml for £3 or 1 liter for £5? And then you think, well I only have £3, so I guess that answers that!”
Throwing away food items is equated to throwing away money, which is already in short supply. As a result, risk aversion becomes part of the process of food procurement, which is also a set of calculations that take a mental toll as this twitter respondent articulates, “Every purchase is a mental calculation, and it is exhausting (see also ).” These food calculations materialise as purchases, for example of frozen and processed foods because they last longer and as such are better value for money. In addition to the mental stress of having to avoid wasting money, there is also the potential health costs associated with a diet lacking in fresh fruits and vegetables. These pressures become more pronounced for many of these families when the school holidays arrive, and access to free school meals are no longer available .You just can’t get them (vegetables) as regularly as you want. I think the vegetables around here are too highly priced compared to what we can get elsewhere, so it is very rare that I buy veggies in the village. When we were chatting in here yesterday, somebody was saying, “Oh, I hate buying fresh carrots because as soon as you take them, they go black.”
The chronic stress of poverty affects everything—your relationships, your ability to make decisions, your ability to focus, your ability to regulate your emotions. It also restricts your freedom because accidents that might not be a big deal for others would ruin your life. It is a constant, bone-deep, live-with-it-so-long-you-don’t-know-it’s-there stress.
Residents in her village are forced to choose food over social activities, which in turn results in social isolation for parents. Additionally, if the parents let the children play on the street, there is the threat of violence or the potential that the children will act in ways that cause trouble for other residents because there is nothing for them to do. For example, one of the volunteers with Organisation A talked about the feelings of fear that some of the parents had of doing things with their children in the parks that are nearby, “A lot of mums won’t take the kids out, it’s just down to the reputation (of the place) which is unfortunate.” The village becomes a site of fear which leads to further isolation and a devaluing of the community spaces as an asset to be used for self-organising.Families in (the village) struggle to pay for food and have an activity that entertains the kids on a long break such as the summer. It’s kind of like meet or eat. You either pay for something to feed your bellies, or you pay for something to keep your kids entertained.
We don’t have one of the big (large chain) stores here, just a small one, and in my opinion, it is more expensive. They don’t carry the value stuff. They’ve got rid of it. If we want it, we have to have it delivered. I think it is because they don’t make enough profit in the store (when the value ranges are available) because everyone takes the value stuff and leaves all the rest.
This quote points directly to policy, but it, along with the much of this narrative also highlights the effects of these policies across scale.It is awful if you walk up the front street now it is dead. There is nobody about. The banks have shut down; various shops are shutting down. There is nought here. People are having to go get food parcels and things from the Salvation Army. I really don’t think that this day and age it should be like this. You can walk down the street, and people are scared to even smile at each other or say hello anything like that. There is so much violence. It makes people wary of each other. There is nothing preventing this, with the government cutting back on a lot of things, youth club and play areas, they have all been shut down.
When this is reflected against the quotes above it is clear that the effects of food insecurity are not just produced by state economic policies that play out through household budgets but are also written into places through the ways that social systems and practices organise and reproduce each other within the wider context of those policies.And if you look at my mum’s side of the family, there was seven of those. So there were aunts and uncles and there were partners that just couldn’t work. I remember them coming …I’m about 10 at this time. So I started understanding emotions in the world a bit better than sort of a younger person… But they’d all come to each others’ houses with ingredients for food. And they’d have a big pot of something. So my mom might bring ‘taties (potatoes). Aunt Marie might provide the meat or my grandad brought rabbits into the house and we would all eat together, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents.
What this quote also highlights is that a solution that focuses just on rolling back welfare reforms, while important, is not going to be sufficient if other more transformative aspects of resilience are to be fostered. The damage of poverty requires more than direct national scale poverty alleviation.While we have had certain shocks as a result of austerity and changes to welfare, I think there has been longer term deskilling. People have been taught not to think for themselves and to feel confident that they can group together to address issues in their communities. People have been isolated and atomised and have become dependent first on the state to solve their problems then by neoliberalism to feel that they are isolated and cannot depend on their neighbours.
3.2. Building Self-Organising Capacity to Confront Food Insecurity
These crafternoon sessions facilitate social connections and a sense of purpose for older residents in the community, which has the outcome of enabling them to live longer and better lives [50,51] but also makes them available as a motivated resource for community self-organisation.She was working in a café, but once that closed, she felt a bit lost. She was forcing herself to go buy a paper because that meant she got out every day. She won an award for her volunteering and when she got up to thank everyone she had us all in tears saying how much it had changed her life. How she was really low, she did not think that she’d see her next birthday, and then coming here had totally changed all that.
The aim behind these courses is to find a fun way for people to learn to cook healthy options within a tight budget.Now we facilitate a six-week cook and eat session called ‘healthy, wealthy, and wise’ where we do five weeks of different recipes, mostly fake-aways because that is what people like to eat around this area…sort of like healthy burgers and healthy KFC. This is all with basic equipment. We play icebreaker games and give them a choice of recipes to decide what they are going to cook, and then they go off and cook it, and everyone sits together and eats. We try to get the kids involved as well.
While residents clearly benefit from access to this food, so do the volunteers, and a greater number of food-services not only attract more people but also provide a way for them to give back.We heard horror stories from the local landlords telling us there are some people who don’t even have pans, so it is obvious that they are not cooking any sort of meals. It would be sort of a bag of crisps on the way home from school. (school lunch) would be (the children’s) main meal. The parents would not have much more than crisps.
While these women may not ever find paid employment, the time they spend supporting their community is also enabling them to feel better about themselves. The reciprocal arrangement helps them to feel not as though they are receiving a handout, but instead are part of a group offering mutual support.Many are two years off retirement and being forced to sign on for work when they had never had a CV in their life, and they don’t know how to use a computer. They feel that by volunteering, that will support what they are given. They all want to find work because they have grown up working. Some of them have been out of work for a few years and have lost their confidence. Looking at their age, I don’t think people will employ them again.
The observation that the financial situation for households in the community is not likely to improve is a salient one. However, some are able to move on.It stemmed from the support from the food parcel, it enables people who were finding that in some circumstances they did not need the free support, but they were still struggling to fill their bellies. So we offered the cupboard. It is sort of the next step. We have had people who have left and said we don’t need it any more now that we are alright. As much as we want the community cupboard members to step away because of being in a better position, I think there is going to be more demand for new cupboard members than ones filtering back into mainstream supermarket shopping.
Kids come along now with the parents to do the shops and the kids have the choice of what food that the mum or dad wants to buy out of the cupboard. It is giving the kids more overall responsibility with what food that they can try because the parents haven’t got the pressure over whether or not they can afford to not like it.(Director, Organisation A)
The pantry is affording nutrition and food security resilience. It, along with the cook and eat activities is changing the understanding of what counts as food in the community, and thereby reducing reliance on a very narrow range of food items. As new-to-the-community food items are offered, conversations about this food are bringing people together.So I think it has changed how they cook as well. They get a different thing every week, so they try new foods and they have a completely different way of cooking. To be honest, a lot of people from (the village) wouldn’t have even looked at an olive, never mind tasting one. They have tried them and come back and they love them. They are on low incomes, so they are not going to buy the more expensive food in the shop. Here they have a chance to try different things.(Staff, Organisation A)
These organically emerging activities have resulted in a food-using service hub that is responding to community need and building on community assets. One food using activity has begotten many more, which in turn has enabled Organisation A to expand its list of regular volunteers from twenty to more than fifty over the time that this research followed them.Not only am I a trustee for (Organisation A) and a volunteer, I am also on the committee of the friends of (the local) Lake. And we work in conjunction with (Organisation A) so that they can have other activities here down by the lake. They have a teddy bear’s picnic, lantern walks, and activities like this. I think we should bother. Because we are bothered and we are passionate about what we do it has turned not only this area around, but the whole of the community around. And allowing people to get involved in everything that we do. So yes, it is worth bothering with. And it just lifts people’s aspiration; it has broken down barriers. What can I say? Community means everything, without a community you’ve got nothing. And yes, sometimes it is very challenging, But worth that challenge because the end result is fantastic.
While evident in the way the director frames this quote , but which is not elaborated is the commitment that Organisation B has to an asset-based approach [6,7]. While the organisation starts by locating in a place that is identified as one that is highly deprived and targets those who are struggling with meagre incomes, the interventions focus on learning activities that aim to build and enhance the assets that already exist within the village and with the individuals and downplay the deficits . According to the director this means “focusing on what is strong not what is wrong.”We have a community kitchen, which is a café and a cooking space—not technically a cookery school because that sounds like we are teaching people to do that stuff and we don’t believe that there is a requirement to do so. What there is a requirement to do is create a safe space where people can start to reconnect with food. Where people can start to articulate their own story in terms of their food history. …To help people build confidence around food and to reconnect with food as a primary narrative for them to articulate who they are and to use it as a tool to bring their households and communities together and to have a bit of fun and celebrate. To make food and the preparation of food a massive moment of delight and where people feel an amazing experience of each other around food. And at the same time, we network with support organisations to help people identify what they are good at and where they could do a bit better, and we work on that together.
These feelings are translating into everyday actions of reciprocity and the longer term security of being able to trust one’s neighbours, but also knowing that that burden of trust will not overwhelm .For me, it is seeing people progress. Seeing people coming in with no confidence, no self-esteem, no job, and they will come back, and it’s like, especially the women, they might put a bit of make-up on, dress different, hold themselves different. Just difference in themselves and are proud and stand tall with their shoulders back. And people are helping each other and being there for each other. It is like where I live (in this community) compared to my sister-in-law (living in another community). She comes to my house and says the difference is if I want a cup of sugar I could knock on my neighbour’s door across the road and she would have it for me there, or a slice of bread or ought like that, just basics. Down where she lives you don’t get any of that, and they don’t talk to each other. There is no communication. Here people lift you up not pull you down.
Through these interventions the organization provides a scaffolding to support the development of community assets.In crisis resolution there is a tremendous financial and psychological damage on an individual, so why not stop it before it can happen. (Organisation B) was positioned not to compete with those folks who are doing crisis stuff nor with those discounters running a great business selling cheap food, but to be a space in the middle. We see it as a progressional food ladder. That gives them a…kind of breathing space where some of the very practical needs are met. People can then aspire to understand the journey that they want their life to take, put some plans in place, we can help them to start to deliver that and then they can move on. We try to provide people with a really simple way to understand that across a team, rather than within an individual, you have a greater ability to stack up the odds in your favour. Not only because of the stuff you know by having learned and grown as an individual, but also by having access to a wider network through which you will know the people that you need to know to help you best navigate that situation.
Conflicts of Interest
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