Wen and University of Sussex are running a new programme on the St George’s Estate, Shadwell called Food Lives Tower Hamlets. It’s all about the role food plays in our lives and the importance of history, culture and heritage to our food habits.  

Food Lives Tower Hamlets is part of a 5-year research programme (which started in 2021) and is funded by UKRI and led by University of Reading, FoodSEqual. It involves many universities, communities and food companies working alongside communities to create a better food environment.



A fruit tree in the Swedenborg Square Orchard on the St George’s Estate 

Swedenborg Square Orchard on the St George’s Estate 

In essence, FoodSEqual wants to make it easier for people to access the food they want and need for happy and healthy lives. But it’s also about the environment – some foods have a higher impact on the planet than others.  

At Wen, we have been running food sessions with communities across the borough for over 10 years. We’ve also led the Tower Hamlets Food Partnership since 2018. We always find that people are generous in sharing their food knowledge with us and their stories display an incredible resourcefulness and resilience. This is something this programme celebrates, whilst also seeking to challenge injustice within the current food system.  

The University of Sussex, based near Brighton, has a track record in research on food and sustainability. Dr Elaine Swan, a feminist food researcher, lives in Tower Hamlets and has worked closely with Wen’s Local Food team for several years.  



In October 2021, we held two events on the estate where we met residents and learned about people’s food memories, and their likes and dislikes. We also talked about their shopping habits, from Iceland to Chrisp Street and Watney Markets.

In January 2022, we ran an 8-week food photography course with Tower Hamlets residents, led by Pierre Bureau of Mindful Photo Lab, which celebrates mindfulness and art to improve wellbeing and community connection. 

At our free Family Food Lives event in June 2022, we celebrated food and its role in our lives, history and culture. St George’s residents were able to find out about Food Lives research and how to get involved. There was an outdoor food photo trail by Tower Hamlet’s residents, free food cooked by local chefs, fun activities and prizes, and a chance to find out about growing spaces, the orchard and composting on the estate.



We have been running  research activities with local residents in the form of food diaries and shopalongs:


Vanilla ice cream, with chocolate pastry

Food Diaries  

Our food diaries record how our research participants, mostly women, from Tower Hamlets make decisions about what to prepare, cook, and eat; the range of influences on those decisions; and the skills women in particular have in feeding their families. Read more 

Food Shopalongs  

By joining participants on our ‘shopalongs’, i.e. tagging along with women going shopping to the shops and markets, we are learning about what they buy to eat, where they buy it from, and what influences their food buying choices. Read more 

Hosting a meal

Food Lives Podcast – Food History Tour of Tower Hamlets

Over 3 episodes, community researchers Sajna Miah and Shazna Hussain, and Sussex University food and feminist specialist, Dr Elaine Swan, take us on a journey through time and racial and ethnic spaces, with insights into the food systems of the past and present day. 

The tour takes in Watney Market, Cable Street, the original site of Café Rio, Wombat’s City Hostel, Wilton’s Music Hall, the former dairies and sugar factories of Wellclose Square and Swedenborg Gardens, and ends in an urban orchard in the heart of the St George’s Estate. 

Episode 1

Food Lives, Tower Hamlets and the role of the Community Researcher

In our first episode, Elaine explains how the tour came about and its connection with a wider project, FoodSEqual, looking at food systems across the UK. Sajna and Shazna share more about the vital role of the community researcher and we get a flavour of what to expect from the tour and the next few episodes. 


Episode 2

Part One of our Food History Tour: Watney Market, the Cable Street Mural, Café Rio and Wombat’s City Hostel.

In episode two, we begin at bustling Watney Market, the founding place of J Sainsbury’s, and discover its valuable culinary contribution to communities past and present. We move on to Cable Street where we learn more about how the humble wooden spoon played a significant role in the campaign for justice. We visit the original site of Café Rio which provided comfort and familiarity for new immigrants and finish at Wombat’s City Hostel gaining an understanding of the importance of these spaces to food and community along the way. 


Episode 3

Part Two of our Food History Tour: Wilton’s Music Hall, Wellclose Square and Swedenborg Gardens and Orchard.

In our final episode we start at the beautiful Wilton’s Music Hall where Elaine explains more about its original food-related purpose. Shazna and Sajna then take us back to the time of the former dairies and sugar factories that dominated the area. We take in Wellclose Square and learn about the historical importance of Swedenborg Gardens and finish the tour at an urban orchard in the heart of the St George’s Estate where we learn how it serves the community today.  

Want to get involved? 

As part of the Food Lives Tower Hamlets programme, Wen and the University of Sussex invite you to get involved in our activities and help us understand how you buy, cook, grow and share food. This is your chance to tell us what changes you’d like to see.   

Why take part? 

  • Help us make changes in the UK food system to improve the way we grow, access and consume food
  • Share your ideas for food-related improvements
  • Receive a shopping voucher to say thank you for participating in our research

If you’re interested in taking part sign-up by emailing Elaine at or phoning/texting Shazna 07706 736125 or Sajna 07706 736166




There are several members of the team: two local community researchers, Shazna Hussain and Sajna Miah, Julie and Pedro from Wen, and Elaine and Julia from the University of Sussex.

Shazna Hussain 

“I am a mother of 4 beautiful children. I was born in the East End and have a great interest in homemade food. The diverse community we have in Tower Hamlets is immensely interesting. I am looking forward to learning about the different cultural dishes and finding out about whether there are obstacles people are facing to provide their families nutritional meals.” 

Sajna Miah 

“I was born and brought up in Tower Hamlets. I am currently a volunteer at my local food bank for Eastend Homes.  

Joining the community food researchers project will give me an opportunity to explore and understand how people from different backgrounds may use different foods in their daily life and the impact it has on individuals and their family’s health.”  


Zoe Miles is Wen’s Local Food Partnership Manager.

Dr Elaine Swan is a Senior Researcher at University of Sussex. She tweets at @DrElaineSwan1 and is a contributor to Servings: Critical Race Feminist Studies of Food Work and Food Pedagogies.


Contact Elaine (, Shazna (07706 736125 ) or Sajna (07706 736166) to find out more.

You can find out more about the FoodSEqual programme at or on Twitter at @foodsequal 


About FoodSEqual

FoodSEqual is a 5 year programme funded by UKRI, which is part of the ‘Transforming UK Food Systems’ SPF programme.

The project is working with local communities to help provide them with choice and agency over the food they consume, by co-developing new products, new supply chains and new policy frameworks that deliver an affordable, attractive, healthy and sustainable diet. 

Find out more about Tower Hamlets Food Partnership



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