Middlesex University researchers have presented their research to MPs in the House of Parliament on the role of social enterprises in tackling some of the huge challenges around providing healthier and more environmentally sustainable food.
Professor Fergus Lyon, Dr Ian Vickers and Dr Doirean Wilson from the MDX Centre for Enterprise, Environment and Development Research (CEEDR) and Business School were invited to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Wednesday to reveal their findings on social enterprises, which are trading businesses with a core social purpose. London-based social enterprises involved in the research including Selby Trust in Tottenham and The Ubele Initiative in Haringey also shared their views. MPs, House of Lords members and other attendees from government departments and national food organisations discussed the implications of the research.
“It was an honour to be invited to present to MPs and there was lots of interest about the role that social enterprises can play by helping us to rethink a UK food system that is widely recognised as broken." Professor Fergus Lyon, Director of CEEDR.
It revealed the challenges facing social enterprises including competition with larger organisations, limited resources and funding during the cost of living crisis, a shortage of volunteers and the affordability of local/sustainable food.
Researchers have found that existing ‘top down’ public health interventions to tackling poor diets and low-quality food are often considered patronising and stigmatising. They argue social enterprises are able to draw on local community understandings to develop “innovative ways of addressing food issues” that are sensitive to local cultural preferences and challenges. Creative approaches to tackling poor diet and food poverty highlighted in the research including those from the London Early Years Foundation nursey school, the Selby Trust community centre and Social adVentures health and wellbeing service. The contribution from social enterprises includes community cafes and catering, local and organic food growing and sharing ideas about healthy diets.
The discussion with policy makers led to insights about how central and local government can better work with social enterprises, such as by extending healthier and more sustainable food provision to schools, hospitals and prisons. There were also calls from social enterprises for the government to provide more support to local food initiatives, to make existing grants more accessible and to offer advice.
This MDX-led research programme is a collaboration with University of Surrey, Glasgow Caledonian University, Shared Assets and six UK social enterprise partners.
Prof Lyon, the Director of CEEDR, said: “It was an honour to be invited to present to MPs and there was lots of interest about the role that social enterprises can play by helping us to rethink a UK food system that is widely recognised as broken. It was also a great opportunity to bring together a range of thinkers on food issues and further discuss how social enterprises can be part of the solution.”
CEEDR and partners are planning to release a full report on the project in the summer.
Find out more information about CEEDR.