In this blog Dr James Kirwan (pictured right), project leader of the combined Countryside and Community Research Institute (University of Gloucestershire) (www.ccri.ac.uk) and f3 (The Local Food Consultants) (http://www.localfood.org.uk/) research team that evaluated the £59.8 million Big Lottery funded Local Food programme www.localfoodgrants.org, highlights some of the key benefits arising from this investment in local food projects across England. The main body of data collected for this evaluation came from a detailed investigation of 50 case study projects, out of the more than 500 projects supported by Local Food.
The overall aim of the programme was to make locally grown food accessible and affordable to local communities. Accessibility is normally thought of in terms of ease of physical access, availability, convenience or nearness; however, it is clear from this examination of Local Food that it also needs to encompass awareness of the issues surrounding local food, the opportunity to get involved in actually growing food, and the confidence to try something new. Affordability, on the other hand, is usually understood in relation to cost — both absolute cost, but also in relation to income. Within Local Food projects the emphasis has not been on reducing cost directly, but on developing new skills and providing the opportunity for people to be more directly involved in growing food for themselves. Ultimately, accessibility and affordability have been addressed within the context of Local Food in terms of the empowerment of individuals through raising their awareness, skills and understanding of what is possible and available in their own locality.
Projects have been funded with the intention of improving local environments, developing a greater sense of community ownership, and encouraging social, economic and environmental sustainability. In most cases food has provided the pretext for projects, but at the same time their aims have encompassed more than simply food. In this sense, Local Food projects have been used as a vehicle for facilitating these wider societal changes to take place, with the funding from Local Food intended to act as a catalyst and enabler for positive change for both communities and their constituent individuals. As a result, Local Food funding has been a vehicle for community cohesion, regeneration, healthy eating, educational enhancement, integrating disadvantaged groups into mainstream society, and developing people’s skills so that they are better able to get into paid employment. In other words, enabling change for the betterment of those involved is at the core of what projects supported by Local Food are intent on doing.
This evaluation, in examining the outputs of Local Food in this way, has demonstrated that the true value of the programme is best assessed at the level of social practice rather than simply material benefits. Thus, while the amount of local food produced has been relatively small, it has made a significant difference in helping to develop social agency and the empowerment of individuals and communities.
The ‘Final Evaluation Report’ is available from the Local Food website, as a summary version.