The money provided by the public engagement fund allowed me to hold a community engagement session at Arabian Bites, a social enterprise café in Coventry.
The session, Celebrating Food in our Community: Eat and Share session, aimed to bring local food researchers and community food practitioners together over a meal to share their work and their experiences. The fourteen attendees came from a broad range of backgrounds, including those from charities, community groups, the University of Warwick, Coventry City Council and independent businesses; and their work focused on food from a variety of perspectives including:
- food insecurity,
- tackling social isolation,
- health improvement,
- developing cooking skills and confidence,
- community gardening,
- understanding how food relates to notions of home and belonging,
- food as a means of sharing (culture, community, issues),
- and promoting independent food businesses.
The session included a small-group activity in which each group were given a set of quotes taken directly from research conducted with families living in Coventry, with discussion centered around three themes:
- what influences the food families eat;
- how can food help families to lead healthier and happier lives;
- and how does food connect us to others?
This provided an opportunity to gain alternative perspectives on what the quotes mean (as a way of sense-checking the researcher’s interpretations), and the extent to which the quotes resonated with attendees. This enabled the group to begin a conversation on how we can collectively support families to lead healthier, happier lives through food. During a reflective activity, the group offered many suggestions for collaborating with one another in the future and attendees were keen to develop a network/forum of food practitioners in Coventry. Attendees said that they valued the opportunity to meet like-minded people from a range of backgrounds and experiences, and one attendee commented that the session demonstrated how food really “does work” in bringing people together.
The project was very well supported by Mark Hinton, the Community Engagement Development manager at Warwick. I would suggest that all sessions with a community focus work in a similar way with Mark’s team, as this really helped me to consider community co-production as an approach. The co-productive nature of the project enabled the session to be designed in a thoughtful and ethical way, and allowed the community stakeholders to decide the direction of the initiative. It was also very valuable to have the support of Alison Philips in developing the idea.
The group requested that their contact details be used to begin to develop a ‘directory’ of food practitioners in Coventry. The group were keen to maintain contact with one another, and ideas for future collaborative projects included cooking together as a group, holding a food and heritage festival, and linking with the City of Culture. It was evident that the session also served to create smaller networks, within the larger group, through initiating conversations between individuals with similar interests and aims. With the support of Ana Irache, a PhD student who supported the project, I have started to produce a one-page infographic of my research which will also feature the ideas that attendees suggested from this session, to share with Coventry City Council (who were partners on my PhD project). Although my work has now moved to the University of Birmingham, there are others at Warwick with an interest in continuing the work, including Wendy Eades, one of the researchers employed on the project, and I also hope to remain connected to the group.
Dr Marie Murphy