Schools as sites for integrated community food action

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Catherine Malpass
PhD student
Environment, infrastructure and sustainability, Urban inequalities and social justice
PhD student Catherine is focusing on how community food action in schools can move towards more sustainable futures...

My PhD is multi-disciplinary, focusing on how community food action in schools can move towards more sustainable futures, whilst also contributing to emancipation and wellbeing.

Food insecurity is a significant problem across the world, and is being exacerbated by the destabilisation of the climate crisis and rising levels of inequality. The after-effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the cost of living crisis in the United Kingdom have also made food provision more difficult for everyone, particularly the most vulnerable in society.

Schools are central to combating food insecurity and working towards food justice, as they are a unique touchpoint with many levels of society. At the moment, school food initiatives centre around gardening schemes, food provision, or educational schemes for the community.

Though there is a need for school and community to work together, rather than schools acting upon the community. Arbourthorne Community Primary School in south Sheffield is devoted to bridging the gap between school and community through their 'An Even Better Arbourthorne' scheme. The scheme brings a network of parent volunteers into the school to participate in initiatives such as the community fridge and food growing initiatives. Working alongside staff and children, the scheme is helping people to feel more empowered in their interactions with food.

This PhD will examine how Arbourthorne are enacting innovative, intergenerational and intercultural practices as a community to address food insecurity. This move to more sustainable practices as a community will also be investigated for its contributions towards empowerment and wellbeing.

Looking more widely, the work happening within Arbourthorne, as a case study, will help to inform future practice and policy for integrated community food action in schools across the UK.

Thesis title: Schools as sites for integrated community food action

Supervisors: Professor Beth Perry, Dr Joanne Thompson

Education/career to date: 

At the beginning of my university studies, I undertook my BA Hons English Literature degree at Durham University. This was followed by an MSc in Marketing at the University of Birmingham, where I was also a Research Assistant on an arts project.

I then had a career as a lead researcher in industry, employing a range of quantitative and qualitative methods. During this time I also led and managed a team. I worked for Cancer Research UK, Co-op and the Department for Education. Alongside my research work, I also went into schools to teach digital skills to children on both a freelance and voluntary basis.

Following this, I pursued a change of career, studying an MSc in Psychology at the University of Nottingham whilst also working as a Research Assistant within the psychology department. Alongside my research and studies, I also worked as Teaching Assistant in a school and in a food cooperative that focused on building community and working towards sustainability.

This experience really consolidated my passion for researching in educational settings with young people, working towards more sustainable futures. My research interests include childhood belonging, critical pedagogy, emancipatory learning, food justice and relational wellbeing.