The research sought to capture the practices that make up the context of food insecurity under neoliberalism as well as how the community organisations are working with their communities to help them to become less vulnerable and insecure. This part of the paper is divided into two broad sections. In the first section, the contours of vulnerability are discussed as they related to four dimensions of community resource depletion related to food insecurity that were identified through the analysis. It starts by considering how poverty impacts on individual and household food practices, which impacts on their relationship with food and has health effects and thereby diminish both food and good health as community assets as it also increases vulnerability to crisis. It then considers the physical and psychological implications that arise from the food insecurity–poverty nexus that undermine people’s mental wellbeing and self-confidence as well as negatively shapes people’s engagements with their neighbours and the places where they live. The section then turns to vulnerabilities at the community scale by considering how food insecurity materialises into the foodscape of the place. The section finishes by linking individualisation back to the capacity to self-organise. The second section shifts to the two case study organisations and how they are building resilience to these vulnerabilities and supporting capacity for self-organising.
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)
That austerity impacts on everyday life in communities should not come as a surprise, and it is clear that welfare reforms coupled with austerity are a vital driver of an inability to purchase enough food to feed oneself and one’s family consistently, sufficiently, and nutritionally [44
]. People talked about the financial difficulties of having “more days in a month than money to cover them (field notes, November 2017)
”. Community organisation providers also talked about households in their communities that had a food budget of just fifteen to twenty pounds a week. Food-using charities revealed, that while these families may not be at crisis point, and therefore accessing emergency food, their diets still are not sufficient to meet the requirements of the national nutritional guidelines, which in the UK is known as the Eatwell plate [45
]. Some forgo eating meals. For example, charity workers talked about families unable to provide breakfast, and who rely on extended family. The children have had to go to grandma’s for breakfast because they did not have any bread (field notes, June 2018)
. People living on these tight budgets also talked about forgoing certain food items such as meat and fruits and vegetables. For example, one young woman who was interviewed said:
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.
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).
People who were on very low-incomes in the communities also talked about difficulties with budgeting and being able to access the best deals and the cheapest food. While many organisations offer budgeting advice, it is clear that this advice is not always contextualised for the budgets within which many are operating, as exemplified by quotes from these two twitter respondents.
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.
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!”
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 [44
]. 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 [46
For the households in this study, thrift is central, and they dare not buy some foods for fear of it going wasted as hinted in the earlier quote about strawberries and echoed in this quote from one of the residents of Organisation A’s village.
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.”
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 [29
]).” 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 [47
The inability to buy food to feed oneself or one’s family has knock-on effects for physical and psychological health because it introduces tradeoffs over spending priorities both in terms of the food choices that are made but also in terms of decisions to address other household needs that may arise, which can also lead to crisis [44
]. The data show that the complexity of having to make spending decisions that have direct and indirect relationships with being able to eat or being able to eat a healthy diet, unsurprisingly not only damages the relationship one has with food but also impacts on one’s relationships with others. Poverty has implications for the social networks that people who are on low-incomes can maintain, which in turn compromises the social cohesion of the communities where they live.
Research on social networks demonstrates that those who have strong social networks live longer and better lives, even when they are living with ill health [52
], but as respondents demonstrate engaging in social activities that enable networks to flourish is linked to being able to afford to participate in those activities. Without funds to participate, social networks break down and isolation results. For example, one resident in the village where Organisation B is located illustrates how isolation is linked to poverty when he says, “Everything about social interactions requires money. It takes money for the bus, for the drinks, for the texts to organise a time
. Before I came up here, I would hardly leave the house.”
A twitter respondent confirms this issue and links it back to the mental states and the ability to take risks.
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.
The director of Organisation A ties this isolation directly back to the vulnerabilities of food insecurity:
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.
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.
The causes of fear are multiple. Some of the reason for this fear was elaborated by a volunteer with Organisation A who said: “you’ve got these little rogues running the streets. There is not a lot for them to do in (the village) so they get up to all sorts.” People from both organisations also talked about children’s anti-social behaviour as being linked to the loss of physical infrastructure in the villages which included the loss of council-funded family and children’s centres, the closure of libraries, and the closure of local markets. The staff of Organisation A also identified the way in which this cycle of fear and isolation is further exacerbated by local authority housing strategy. They felt that there was also a large transient population, which they identified as people who had been released from prison and then rehoused in the village; “They are not from the village, but are put into the village.” They felt that those making the housing decisions for transient groups viewed the village as a problem already, and “throwing a few more into the mix was not going to make a lot of difference.” Both staff felt that this policy increased isolation because it divided the community between those who were part of the mining tradition and these new populations that had no shared history. Rather than building social capital by mixing groups [54
], this housing strategy undermines the connectivity of the existing residents by driving them into their homes. It is not just individuals who suffer when people become isolated from each other and fear the places where they live; the place of the community also suffers.
Practices materialise into places as is illustrated by the communities in this research [1
]. Food insecurity emerges in a context where the individual food preferences of household members are imbricated with a broader commercial context dominated by food producers competing for stomach share by emphasising personal choice and taste over nutrition. The stress of poverty in this structural context can lead to circumstances whereby food itself becomes a site of conflict to be minimised and avoided, not something to be enjoyed, let alone shared if indeed sharing is even affordable. Research on food practices demonstrates that the emotional relationship one has with food shapes how cooking and procurement practices are enacted [56
]. In a local place where the majority of people are experiencing negative food associations, the commercially driven food landscape comes to reflect the food purchasing patterns that are the result of these emotional negativities, household conflicts, and commercial forces (for a related argument see [58
Like many poor neighbourhoods across the UK, the villages where Organisation A and B are located have many empty shops and an abundance of cafes and takeaway restaurants providing low-cost food items. In a focus group with participants from Organisation A, the foodscape was described in terms primarily of absence and loss particularly highlighting the closure of the local market and children’s centre. At the same time, in the supermarket, the food items that are wanted are not available as one resident of the village where Organisation A is located explains:
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.
One of the members of Organisation B talked about the way this foodscape has knock-on implications for the ways that people interact with each other, which also links back to the social isolation discussed above and undermines the capacity to self organise and be resilient to shock.
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.
This quote points directly to policy, but it, along with the much of this narrative also highlights the effects
of these policies across scale.
The contrast to previous time periods is clearly demonstrated when one considers how people talked about a sense of community in the village at the time of the miners’ strikes and before when there was poverty, but also a greater sense of community collectivity. Many participants reflected on going to the pits with their parents and taking part in community activities. This formed a basis for support once the mining pits closed. For example, one village resident reflected on the period just after the miners’ strikes:
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.
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.
Sustained vulnerabilities are not just the result of isolation, lack of individual confidence, a dearth of strong social networks and the absence of built infrastructures, they are also a result of the creation of a context whereby self-organised social change is also suppressed as a result of a much longer trend in the way the UK governmental policy and intervention has treated these households and communities. The director of Organisation B described this as a more entrenched process, extending back before austerity was introduced.
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.
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.
3.2. Building Self-Organising Capacity to Confront Food Insecurity
This section analyses the ways in which community organisations, through food activities, help build different forms and levels of community resources that lead to self-organised resilience in the face of food insecurity. This research identifies these resources as finance and infrastructure, diet diversity, mental health, social networks and community cohesion. While research on food support has tended to focus on individual food services with the majority of research focusing on the food parcel [14
], FareShare [61
] statistics indicate that food support within the UK is quite extensive and diverse. Organisations that provide other food-related services such as those offered by both Organisation A and B are less easy to identify, compared to food parcel providers as there is no registry. The network of charities that FareShare provides with access to surplus food extends across the whole of the United Kingdom either through an app-enabled back of store collection service (approximately 6962, charities) or via distribution through one of the 21 regional FareShare warehouses (3195 charities). Approximately 77% provide meals (social eating), 57% offer snacks (social eating), 58% give a food parcel (social distribution), 25% run a pantry (social distribution), and 33% conduct cooking lessons (social making and/or learning). Only one-quarter of the charities offer a single food service, with meals the most likely service provided on its own (18%) and only 8% provide an emergency food parcel on its own.
Both Organisation A and B operate within a model of multiple food provision. While those who use surplus food via the FareShare network are a significant number, this number is also not likely to capture the whole of the UK food support landscape, as there are organisations that use other means for securing the food that they provide through their services, for example Charity B or those who offer food parcels by purchasing food and/or with publicly donated food. Charity A also buys food and receives public donations to support its food services. The remainder of this section starts with Organisation A and then moves on to Organisation B before making some comparisons between the organisations.
Over the course of the interviews, the director of Organisation A talked about each service they offer and how it had begun as a result of something they noticed within the community. This is in keeping with the ethos behind its conception as an organisation that would seek to bring different groups together to address local need. The initial focus of their food-using activity was not to help residents access food in an emergency or to enable access to food; this came later as people within the village began to be moved onto Universal Credit. They started with snacks and shared meals because they noticed that many of the elderly within the community were lonely and were visiting the local medical centre in order to be around other people. As a result of putting on a craft activity, which included a cup of tea and a snack, they reported the number of medical visits by older people in the village went down. The director described an 86 year old volunteer who has now taken over the ‘crafternoon’ sessions.
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.
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
] but also makes them available as a motivated resource for community self-organisation.
Organisation A added cookery lessons after staff attended a team building course. In the team building, they had to go to the local shops and buy items to cook a three-course meal on a tight budget. Based on this course they felt that this would be something that they could bring back to the community. In the first interview in 2016, the coordinator talked about the process once they decided to offer cookery activities.
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.
The aim behind these courses is to find a fun way for people to learn to cook healthy options within a tight budget.
Residents (primarily women) talked about the difficulty of getting family members to eat fruits and vegetables but reported that when trying the recipes at home, they were able to “hide” these items in food that looked familiar. Many spoke with a sense of pride at being able to provide healthy foods for their families that they would eat and enjoy. By enabling new ways of cooking these cook and eat sessions also reduce some of the stress associated with trying to find low-cost food that families will eat that are also at the same time healthier options. Staff also said that by building on existing food skills participants began to be more confident and have more positive relationships with their food. This intervention also expanded the reach of their services to a wider range of age groups in the community thereby enhancing the communities capacity to build resilience.
As austerity and the transition onto Universal Credit began to affect village residents more deeply, they added a free surplus fruit and vegetable table for anyone in the community with a hot lunch on the side.
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 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.
The lunch and food table is run by older female volunteers, many of whom the director described as being near the end of their working lives, but because of benefits reforms are being required to find new employment after a job loss. By volunteering these women are meeting a psychological need to be working and not feel dependent. The director said:
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.
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.
The food parcel service began in 2016. The staff spoke about people who needed some support because they had been referred by the benefits service to receive a food parcel but could not get to the town centre where the parcels were being handed out, or it was not open on the day it was needed (e.g., parcels were available on Tuesdays only, but the need arose on a Thursday; or over the holiday period). They talked about a family where the husband had been diagnosed with cancer, and his wife could not run the shop alone and take care of him but did not have any benefits sorted to take up the slack. They wanted to offer support that was local that would enable people to get help when and where it was needed.
] argues that this kind of support enhances the ability to absorb disturbance. The protective care offered by emergency food support enables a getting-by and getting on. The food and the conversation that the staff and volunteers provide to those collecting parcels can provide a pause or resting place away from the storm and struggle that comes alongside everyday food insecurity [13
]. While this support can offer a moment of repair, these emergency interventions are also always infused with a particular power relationship whereby one participant is always the giver, and the other is always the receiver [18
]. Observations of those accessing the parcels revealed how people kept their heads down and kept to themselves rather than interact with others, despite efforts by the providers to limit the feelings of embarrassment and stigma. A few of those who received food parcels did go on to become more involved with the organisation through volunteering, but not many. As such the multiple dimensions of resilience building that involve more than coping by enhancing social networks and building confidence do not seem as likely to be an outcome of organisations that offer only an emergency food parcel.
In 2017, Organisation A started offering a pantry service where for a small fee people could access fresh food. The organisation staff felt that food access was needed by people who were not in crisis, but still vulnerable to food insecurity and is also a position taken by many who provide this kind of food support. The director explained:
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.
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.
While income and financial need were the key motivation for providing this food service and community members talked about how the access abled them to “live from week to week
”, the organisation is finding that the pantry is enabling better relationships with food to form, food knowledges are expanding, and people are less risk-averse. Quotes from the director and a staff member illustrate this point:
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)
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)
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.
While the different food-focused activities being provided address the immediate issues of hunger and the financial aspects associated with being able to afford food, there is also a clear narrative of how food-using activities are helping people to overcome feelings of isolation and lack of self-esteem. By offering activities in combination, Organisation A is enabling people to be both givers and receivers. The quasi-market exchange in the pantry is also enabling interactions that are not present in the gift-exchange of the food parcel. The better relationship with food lends itself to an ability to play, experiment and try new things that broaden food horizons, and also opening the door to the possibility of wider collective social transformation within the village.
The ripple effect of being able to give and take, building up of social networks, and having the opportunity to contribute is also helping people to feel that they are making a better community more generally. One of the volunteers is an older woman nearing retirement age. She spoke to us while working at a children’s summer activity session put on by the organisation. She also is a member of the pantry scheme. One afternoon at a summer family bar-b-que put on by Organisation A, she described in important terms what this combination of support has meant to her and to the place where she lives:
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.
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.
There are synergies provided by offering multiple food activities. Individual activities are meeting different needs for different groups, e.g., older people through the snack and crafting, women (primarily) who attend the cook-alongs to find new ways to get their families to eat more vegetables, people in food crisis who need emergency food support, people who are just about managing, but not quite who benefit from the food pantry, the mums with children who are afraid to go out with them to the park alone. What is also clear from this narrative, is that there is crossover such that someone receiving support in one area goes on to be a volunteer in another area. An intergenerational transfer is occurring as older people help with crafting and cooking activities that happen during the school holiday events. Feelings of fear associated with the spaces of the community are breaking down, and people are connecting in meaningful ways with each other, just as they are gaining confidence in terms of what they can provide. Each activity contributes to an overall element of transformation acting on individuals and also the community as a whole. The diverse array of food activities are a scaffold that enables this community to be less vulnerable because of the way these food practices are helping to build a new foodscape on top of the one characterised by poverty, negative food associations, austerity and neoliberalism.
Organisation B is achieving similar ends but has approached this process somewhat differently and has been able to implement community-level change more quickly compared to Organisation A. The success is enabled by the fact that the organisation is supported by a very successful food business, whose owner is from the area where the two locations visited are located. This business has provided financial contributions, logistics and food access, which means that experienced staff could be hired, that jobs within the organisation are available, and that there is greater longer-term security than experienced by Organisation A. These resources also mean that Organisation B can operate as a CIC rather than as a charity, which eliminates its dependence on donations and grants for its continued operation. Shop sales sustain the costs associated with the other activities that are part of the hub. As such its status as self-organising at the organisation level is more ambiguous compared to Organisation A.
Rather than grow its services organically, the hubs were designed to provide a framework of services from the beginning aimed at enhancing both individual and community capacity. The organisation is viewed as a hub designed to be, according to the director, “a platform to empower and equip people to go out and be community change makers … food gets them in the door.
” The director described the ethos of the food spaces within the hub:
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.
While evident in the way the director frames this quote [51
], but which is not elaborated is the commitment that Organisation B has to an asset-based approach [6
]. 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 [7
]. According to the director this means “focusing on what is strong not what is wrong
The ethos of using food to enhance feelings of self-worth and community connectivity is working as is illustrated by one of the community coordinators in Organisation B:
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.
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 [8
The commitment to an asset-based approach is also the reason Organisation B does not offer emergency food. A food parcel was felt to be too wedded to deficit thinking to be included as part of the food offer. The director also recognises that to expect people who are in crisis to have the capacity to be community change makers is unreasonable. He said:
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.
Through these interventions the organization provides a scaffolding to support the development of community assets.
An asset-based approach is also evident but less intentional in Organisation A. A key similarity is the notion of a ladder approach to support that sees people accessing food in different ways according to their circumstances, but which once their circumstances change also offer the next rung of support. Both organisations also report that on the back of interactions that have occurred while participants have engaged with the more social aspects of food support that are offered, new groups are forming, e.g., walking and singing groups, but a new community based self-organised weekly market.
Both Organisations A and B illustrate the power of bringing different food activities together to create opportunities for people to find common ground and to recognise and build the individual and group assets that are needed within their communities. These assets include time, skills, food stories, and food knowledges, which can be mobilised to build social networks that also become a community asset to be drawn upon in times of need, and involves providing a range of food-using activities. As a result, how resilience happens and transformations emerge are context specific but embedded within a wider context of constraints and possibilities linked to national scale policies and their local scale effects. Participants in both organisations argue that their communities are stronger and more resilient as a result of these interventions, compared to the period prior to their inception and compared to locations where such interventions are not being undertaken, but they also acknowledge the wider contextual difficulties.
There is an important contrast between the organisations that emerged. Organisation A, which is more obviously self-organising, is also more precarious compared to Organisation B as a result of different funding streams and organisational configurations. This organic adapting to conditions has also meant that it has taken Organisation A longer to implement the more transformative activities that were at the heart of how Organisation B operated from the begining. Where Organisation B intersects best with community self-organising is in the way that it has designed its interventions. Great care has been taken to ensure that as much as possible, people from the community are incorporated into and shape the daily practice of the organisation. In contrast to Organisation A, which is very much of the community, it may be some years, if ever, before Organisation B can fully shake off its position in the shadow of its sponsor and be fully community run and organised although this is the ultimate vision of its founders.