Church Elm Hub Cooking club

Council responds to community calls for fresher, healthier food

Yesterday (23 March), Barking and Dagenham Council launched a Good Food Partnership with the local community to create a plan for access to healthier, fresh food that is affordable and provide more skills, resources and land for food growing.

The partnership involves local community and business leaders and responds to a new report showing local demand for access to affordable, healthier and more environmentally sustainable food. 

The report, by local social enterprise Company Drinks and national food and farming charity Sustain, involved more than 500 residents and over 40 businesses and social sector organisations. 

In response, the council is launching programmes to help communities across the borough to grow, cook and eat together, support more schools to offer healthier, climate-friendly food, and planning new training and business opportunities to help local food enterprises. These initiatives sit alongside an emergency hot meals service to help residents struggling with the cost of living and aim to provide long term, sustainable solutions for communities facing high levels of food insecurity and food-related health issues.  

Other plans include establishing a food hall and food school in Barking town centre that celebrate the diversity of food cultures in the borough and provide a unique place for communities to access good food, and for community food businesses to gain skills in world cuisine and sustainable food innovation, and access subsidised kitchen space. 

The council jointly commissioned the research with the City of London Corporation ahead of the planned relocation of their historic wholesale food markets to the borough. The findings will feed into a borough-wide Good Food Plan that will aim to ensure the markets lead to a step change in access to fair, nourishing and sustainable food for the residents of Barking and Dagenham, while making the most of the prospective new employment opportunities.  

Councillor Sade Bright, Cabinet Member for Employment, Skills & Aspiration, said: “Food is a great connector, and this research shows the wonderful diversity of Barking and Dagenham, with people’s favourite dishes ranging from shepherd’s pie to seafood and jollof rice to jellied eels. 

“This work will help us to identify and improve access for residents to affordable, nourishing food while also providing the necessary skills to make the most of the opportunities of having the markets in our borough.” 

Cam Jarvis, Head of Community Food Programmes and Research at Company Drinks, said: “In our nine years of being both an ethical drinks enterprise and intergenerational community space, Company Drinks has actively engaged with local food cultures, from growing to eating, and every aspect in between.  

“We are extremely proud of the report, and how it has brought local and specialist voices to the table. With the cost of living crisis, climate crisis and nature crisis all taking their toll, it’s never been more pressing to rethink our food system and support residents to play an active part in both demanding change and creating it.” 

Sarah Williams, Programmes Director at Sustain, said: “We are really pleased the council are taking sustainable and healthy food seriously, through creating a food partnership and putting this at the heart of their plans for reinvigorating the borough’s food system and supply. The arrival of the wholesale markets into the area is certainly a once in a decade-or-so opportunity, and we look forward to seeing how they ensure it builds community wealth and a more sustainable food future for Barking & Dagenham and beyond.”