FOOD STORIES TOWER HAMLETS – WORKING WITH COMMUNITIES TOWARDS A FAIRER FOOD SYSTEM
Wen and University of Sussex are running a new programme on the St George’s Estate, Shadwell called Food Stories 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 Stories Tower Hamlets is part of a 5-year research programme 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.
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 incredibly resourceful, resilient and generous in sharing their food knowledge and stories with us. This is something our programme will celebrate, 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, we held two events on the estate where we met residents and learned about people’s food memories, and their likes and dislikes. And we also talked about their shopping habits, from Iceland to Chrisp Street and Watney Markets.
In January, 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.
A fruit tree in the Swedenborg Square Orchard on the St George’s Estate
Swedenborg Square Orchard on the St George’s Estate
Raised beds for community growing on the St George’s Estate
There are several members of the team: Jo and Julie from Wen; and Elaine, Katerina and Jesse from the University of Sussex. Elaine, Katerina and Jesse study food and sustainability in communities. We also have brought two local resident researchers into the Wen team: Shazna Hussain and Sajna Miah.
“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.”
“I was born and brought up in Tower Hamlets. I am currently a volunteer at my local food bank for Eastend Homes.
The pandemic has been a very difficult time for many families across Tower Hamlets and more and more families are reaching out to food banks. 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.”
We’re running regular coffee mornings on the estate in March and April, where research team members are available for a chat and a hot drink. Plus we’re starting some research activities with local residents – researchers will accompany residents on a shopping trip or observe them cooking a meal.
And our launch event in May will include family activities and the chance to see some of the work created on the photography course.
Jo Wilson, Wen and Elaine Swan, University of Sussex
Jo Wilson is Tower Hamlets Food Partnership Programme Manager. She tweets at @j_wils and #TowerHamletsFood.
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.
You can find out more about the FoodSEqual programme at https://research.reading.ac.uk/food-system-equality/ or on Twitter at @foodsequal