My placement helped me see how abstract theories are applied to real life settings

Selena Treuherz in Foodhall kitchen
Selena Treuherz
Volunteer at Foodhall
BA Geography
Selena undertook a project as part of the Sheffield Undergraduate Research Scheme.

The Sheffield Undergraduate Research Scheme (SURE) offers funded opportunities for students to work in partnership with an academic staff member on a dedicated research project during the summer vacation.

Selena undertook her project at Foodhall, a local pay-as-you-feel community dining room and kitchen.

Throughout my time at Sheffield, I have used my free time to volunteer for Foodhall community kitchen – a project in Sheffield city centre. Foodhall uses waste food from a local Sainsburys to cook meals on a contribute-what-you-can basis, with the hope of bringing together the community. I heard about the SURE scheme from a friend in the year above who had taken part. SURE was an opportunity to use and develop the theories, concepts and skills that I had learnt during my degree to help a community project that I cared about.

During the summer after second year, I did an intensive case study of Foodhall through cooking in the kitchen and working in front of house speaking to community members. I used concepts that I had previously learnt in Social and Cultural Geographies to research the relationship between ‘cared’ and ‘caring’ citizens in third sector organisations within the public sphere. This involved thinking about how we understand and relate to different parts of identities (such as age, race, gender and class) and how this forms power relations within the space. In addition, I drew on ideas from political geographies about the dynamic relationships between the market and the state. My research hoped to address concerns within the organisation about what community means to Foodhall, so that we can sufficiently continue our aim of making this an equal space for everyone.

Every week I would have a meeting with my research supervisors Dr Megan Blake and Rowan Jaines. We would discuss the progress of my research and they helped me develop my analysis. We also spent time discussing how theories and concepts could be applied to the project. Having the time in the summer to develop these methods and learn how to work with concepts in everyday settings was invaluable preparation for third year and my dissertation (where I was able to use the same methods). I have a good working relationship with my 2 supervisors so  now feel able to speak to them about difficult concepts that I have learnt this year because they know how my mind works so can explain it in a way that works for me. In addition, as the weeks progressed, I was given more responsibility in the organisation which has improved my organisational skills.  I also feel that I have become a better listener from undertaking the project by talking to people with whom I would not have otherwise had the opportunity.

The research has also been very useful for Foodhall. It has led to significant development in understandings of the space and its power dynamics. It has led to more transparency within the organisation. 

The SURE scheme has allowed me to see how those abstract theories that we study in lectures are applied to real life settings, and the importance of this is for the development of society. In the future, I hope to do a research masters to develop these methods further.

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