Food, Farming and Countryside Commission

Food Builds Community

By Jane Campbell

2nd July 2021

Food Builds Community: From crisis to transformation shows how communities can create lasting change.

The research looks at the work of Big Local communities across the UK, which range from inner city urban neighbourhoods to remote rural villages. When given £1m to make resident-led change happen in their neighbourhoods, 143 of the 150 Big Local areas chose to work on food, or to use food to help bring their communities together.

The report highlights the important role that food plays in encouraging community engagement and participation, and in creating a positive community culture. When the pandemic hit, Big Local communities were able to switch gears entirely or step up their food provision in response to increasing food poverty and need for support. They were able to do this because of their existing structures, networks of volunteers and the links and trust they’ve built within their communities.

The research also reveals that the food work of Big Local partnerships is largely responding to challenges caused by the current food and broader policy systems – especially the emphasis on emergency food provision across Big Local areas. There is a huge opportunity for Big Local areas, and other similar communities, to use these networks and community relationships to change and improve their local food system rather than just responding to crises.

The food system could look entirely different if communities, like those within Big Local, had the resources and power to enact their versions of our food future – and this is something that government, funders and others can help with. This food future would be possible if:

  • Communities were allocated the resources they need to make change but are not alone in making that change: For communities like Big Local areas to deepen the impact of their work on food, they need to be supported through policy frameworks and information that enables them to act – and there are issues like poverty which should not be falling to communities (and charities within them) to solve.
  • Communities were at the heart of our response to the climate crisis: food system strategies and plans would focus on helping communities to create healthy and agroecological food systems and to create shorter routes to market for food that is fair and fresh.
  • Every community across the UK could access land for community food projects and food growing: Communities need access to land not only to grow their own food or set up community spaces for sharing food, but to form strong connections and resilience.
  • Solutions to challenges in the food system were driven by relationships and connection: Focusing on relationships and connection and putting real decision-making power in the hands of communities will create new community-driven food systems with more flexibility and resilience. These would not be in competition with the ‘mainstream’ food system, but would be there to supplement it and meet needs not currently met by the food system.
  • Funders supported vital and vibrant community food systems: If we were to ask funders to imagine a better food future, the same question that we asked our Big Local participants, it is unlikely that they would answer with food banks and other emergency food provision. A good question for funders to consider is: what does a vital and vibrant food community look like, and how can your funding help support that?

Download a copy of the full report above.