Social Enterprise as a Catalyst for Sustainable and Healthy Local Food Systems

Principal Investigator: Professor Lyon, Middlesex University

Researchers at Middlesex University (lead), the University of Surrey (co-lead), Glasgow Caledonian University and Shared Assets are researching how social enterprises can bring innovations in healthy and sustainable food. The £380,000 project grant from UKRI is part of the Transforming UK Food Systems programme.

The scale of change needed to transform UK food systems for health, social justice and environment requires new ideas, organisational models and collaborative approaches that can meaningfully engage individuals and communities. Existing top-down approaches to the challenge of sustainable food provision and diet have failed to tackle the crisis of poor dietary health and sustainable food production.

Our research will focus on the distinctive role of social enterprises (trading with a core social and environmental purpose), exploring and enhancing their unique contribution to food systems that are more inclusive, sustainable and healthy. This includes social enterprises providing:

  • community growing spaces
  • distribution schemes
  • leisure and fitness centres
  • children’s nurseries
  • other community-based services.

The project will work closely with six partner social enterprises:

  • Community Transport Glasgow (tackling access to affordable food)
  • Cultivate Powys (local growing and social prescribing)
  • London Early Years Foundation (nursery chef initiative)
  • Selby Trust London (food and community hub)
  • Social Adventures Salford (therapeutic growing and local food hub)
  • Windmill Hill City Farm Bristol (growing space and community hub).

We will use the research findings to co-design resources and toolkits to support the scaling-up or replication of successful models and innovations, and the sharing of good practice across the country.

This is not without its challenges and the project will examine the various barriers and constraining factors and how to best address them. In addition to good practice guides for social enterprises and other organisations across the country, we will prepare policy briefings, focusing on the different levels of local, regional and national policy making.

Professor Fergus Lyon, Director of Middlesex University’s Centre for Enterprise and Economic Development Research, said: “This project comes at a crucial time when there is a need for affordable, healthy food, grown in a sustainable manner. This collaboration between researchers and innovative social enterprises will be able to explore ways of tackling obesity and also tackling the impact of food production on climate change and biodiversity loss. They can do this in ways that other initiatives have been lacking.”