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Researchers to help identify best types of emergency food service

Posted on 6 February 2023

Researchers at the University of York are working to identify the types of community food support that are most successful at preventing people from needing emergency supplies.

Community food support includes food banks, community cafes and utility benefit schemes

One in five families with children in the UK live in a household where they cannot regularly access affordable and healthy food, known as ‘food insecurity’. Organisations across the UK called ‘community food assets’, such as food banks, community cafes and utility benefit schemes, provide support with emergency food and help prevent people from needing it. 


The study, funded by National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Public Health Research (PHR) Programme, will identify the accessibility and approachability of current food assets and if they have the capacity to support everyone in need. 

Professor Maria Bryant, from the Department of Health Sciences, said: “Our aim is to investigate what approaches used by community food assets are most likely to help prevent the need for emergency food in two multicultural populations in the North and South of England.”

“Figures show, only about half of those who need support are accessing help, in part because people feel ashamed, which is having a negative impact on the physical and mental health of those affected.”

“Working in collaboration with University College London, Bradford Institute of Health Research and the councils of Bradford and Tower Hamlets, we will use the research to inform local and national government as to how best to invest in these or other resources.”


Researchers on the project will work as volunteers over a 12-month period to gain understanding of how the systems work and to meet users, volunteers and staff. They will carry out interviews with families, and spend time with them to understand their lives and the role food assets play, as well as which approaches are most effective, accessible and inclusive.

Dr Laura Sheard, from the Department of Health Sciences, said: “We will listen to families and people working in voluntary organisations and local governments to understand how different organisations work together and the role which food assets play in people’s lives.” 

“This will produce a picture of the complex food aid system, highlighting the processes through which food assets may assist with the prevention of food insecurity. This is a timely project in the cost of living crisis.”

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