Over the winter, we have been focusing our energy on Barton, a neighbourhood of 7,200 people on the eastern periphery of Oxford.
Barton itself is a beautiful neighbourhood of parks and rural views, but it has just one row of shops and is separated from Headington by the ring road.
We first started working in Barton with our Food Poverty report – which found that half of the people we talked to experienced some form of food poverty, and The Student Consultancy’s mapping project found that a banana is twice as expensive in a local shop in Barton as in the nearest supermarket. Although this is by no means across the board, generally people’s health and wellbeing in Barton is less good than in most other areas of the city.
And over the next decade, the size of Barton is due to increase by at least 885 houses, with a new development under way in Barton Park.
Against this backdrop, Oxford City Council funded Good Food Oxford to carry out work in Barton as part of the Barton Healthy New Town initiative. This is one of ten pilot projects of NHS England’s Healthy New Towns programme. The aim is to create innovative and sustainable ways for existing Barton and the new development at Barton Park to achieve improved health and wellbeing.
Our “new approach to food assistance” was to see food as a positive way of bringing people together, and free or affordable food as a community asset rather than a handout with negative connotations.
We worked with GFO network members Jade from Feeding the Gaps, Caitlin from Monday Shop, Miranda from the Food Surplus Café and Natalie from Relish, as well as trainee Environmental Health Officer Annabelle to bring some of their great ideas and projects to fruition in Barton.
Firstly, we noticed that that Oxford Food Bank deliveries seemed a little neglected and unloved. Having observed and discussed current usage, in consultation the name was changed to “Barton Community Cupboard” with three messages:
- Help us use this food
- Take one bag so everyone can
- It’s safe to eat
It is now more of a market stall experience, and more people are aware of it and know how to use the food. A cookbook is also being developed.
We have also worked to increase the uptake and redemption of Healthy Start Vouchers, which are vouchers for fruit, vegetables, milk and formula for parents and carers who have young children and are receiving benefits. Midwives and Health Visitors now have an up-to-date map of outlets which accept Healthy Start Vouchers, and there is better promotion and awareness of the scheme with posters and a community partners’ briefing. We even got ten outlets to put up “till talkers” advertising that they accept the vouchers!
On a beautiful sunny March day (we were very lucky!) we held a foraging walk with “frugal forager” Tom when more than 30 of us – adults and children alike – identified at least 20 edible plants in Barton’s parks and hedgerows. At the end of the walk, we went back to the Neighbourhood Centre where we cooked and ate nettle soup – which was delicious! Food for free never tasted this good.
Finally, we held a training session on food poverty for frontline service providers, to identify and discuss food poverty, share best practice, and signpost most effectively in Oxford. All 19 professionals who attended agreed that a “community of practice” was the most appropriate next step, calling for a Food Access Action Plan for Oxford – to ensure everyone is able to eat well in Oxford every day.
The first stage of this will be a Food Access Database and Map which will soon be launched by Jade of Feeding The Gaps. This will enable individuals and professionals to identify where to get free or affordable food and meals, every day of the week in Oxford.
In order to address the “food poverty iceberg”, Brighton and Hove has called itself “the city that cooks and eats together”. Perhaps Oxford can do the same.