Sign in

Food Insecurity Can be Reduced by Connecting Back to Growing

Double Diamond by Joey McAleese

In March 2020, our MA class was brought into Southwark Council’s building to be given four briefs for our unit — food security, loneliness, faith, and art. Joey McAleese, Pipi Yuan, Luya Shao, Binoli Shah, Tucker Wu, and I were assigned to the food security team as our previous work was relevant to the topic and I attribute this blog to my amazing team. The report from the 1996 World Food Summit states that food security “exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”. Like many other parts of the developing world, food insecurity is a concern amongst local authorities across the UK. It is widely understood to be on the rise. We were tasked with understanding the challenge and the opportunity for change in Southwark.

As a team, we knew Southwark was a large area with many different problems. We decided we needed to discuss the brief and our secondary research to give ourselves a direction. We discussed why foodbanks are the current solution to food insecurity. We used the metaphor of an iceberg to demonstrate how as food banks are increasing, the underlying problems are becoming significantly worse, as most food insecure people will not visit a food bank.
We also decided on Peckham, as this has been highlighted as an area with high food insecurity. However, we began debating if we were improving access to or education to healthy affordable food and this is what we needed to research further.

Secondary Research — Demographics

1. There are more young people in Peckham than other areas, who are more likely in poverty.

Across the UK young adults had the highest poverty rates for any age group other than children in 2013/14, the only 16+ group where more than one in four people were in poverty.
BBC Question Time, 2017. Compared with the workers in other areas, workers in Peckham earn less.

2. Rapidly rising house prices in this area and decreasing salary put huge pressure on local young people.

House prices in Peckham have outpaced every district in the UK, scoring the greatest price growth since records began in 1995. The study by Knight Frank and its head of research, Tom Bill, trawling through nearly 25 years of Land Registry figures, shows SE15 values have exploded by 1,082 percent.
Salaries in Peckham have gone down 21.6% year-on-year while the national annual change is 0.3%
Peckham has a lower rate of homeownership (via a mortgage or owned outright) than the national average, which suggests that Peckham is an economically deprived area. Since all home ownership is lower than the national average and all rented accommodation levels are higher than the national average, this also suggests an area of economic deprivation.

Peckham Pantry

Peckham Pantry belongs to Pecan, a community development charity based in Peckham, also has its food bank, employment support, women’s service, etc. It opens every Wednesday, charges a weekly membership fee for £4.5, members get to choose up to £15 valued food with a color-coded system to ensure that this includes a balance of fresh, packaged, and ‘high-value’ goods. Households can save up to £546 per year. The food stock is mainly from FareShare, a charity distributes ‘food waste’ from industry surpluses. Compared to the foodbank, it opens to the public, doesn’t need a referral. Those people weren’t using food banks even though they got a referral because of stigma. The pantry model offers dignity and choice for those people.

The members were overall satisfied as it is a good value of money, can get fresh food, community vibe (chat with people), and also had good service, but the concerns were that meat is running out too fast. The staff also had concerns that not enough volunteers if they will open another shop for 6 days a week. They don’t have a specific channel to recruit volunteers, so they just rely on people’s walk-in and the Pecan website. There was also not enough suitable space (rental, location, size) in addition to a limited budget, lack of meat. The pantry had both regular people and new faces that builds a sort of community, which consisted of Black British, South African, white British, Spanish, Swiss ethnic members.

Fareshare delivers food to them and surplus food is given to a foodbank and from interviews with Chris Price, Abbie Pascoe-Apaw, and Sophie Reid, this strong infrastructure is needed to run a successful program. They were worried about a lack of affordable fruit and vegetables and being seen as competition for other schemes. We also found that many parents worrying about fussy children wasting food, as they were targeted specifically at families. Other hardships they were facing were that there isn’t much funding in cooking programs or long-term community projects. A large majority of people in food poverty are people who are working when there were misconceptions that food insecurity was an issue for the jobless demographic when actually, people are willing to travel for education and food.

Basket Project

The Basket project is commissioned by Southwark Council to look at the food desert in the area. Food deserts are areas that don’t have access to affordable healthy food such as supermarkets within 500 meters. Sophie Reid, a design researcher, found secondary research which shows areas that might be defined as this such as North Peckham. She is now doing a basket study where she gets volunteers to go to convenience and superstores and searching for 30 items which are seen to be healthy staple foods. The data will be presented to show the council if the food is available and if it is affordable. In the initial event, they invited people in the Peckham area for food and discussed what should be in the basket as well as how and when they shop.

After attending the event, we found that people do have a good understanding of healthy food, however, cultural differences meant they see healthy food differently. Depending on the cultural food that is present in the household, spices are very important to some. Some cook in batches and store it to save time and they also have weekly budgets for food. We also found that people with families are cautious about what they eat. Interestingly, Lidl is seen as an affordable food shop and we decided to see what the hype was.

From the secondary research from Peckham Pantry and the Basket project, we mind mapped the insights we had found. We then underlined the elements we found the key and also did a brief linking of words.

Lidl Survey

Our insights from Lidle was that people were already cooking healthy food almost every day. Apart from fruit and vegetables, carbohydrates are considered healthy as well, such as flour, rice, bread, pasta, including canned foods. People prefer easy ways to cook, roasted, microwave, or boil. Some suffer from certain diseases, so they have to follow a special menu.

(For raw answers please click here)

In the beginning, a few customers said it’s easy to find fresh food at Lidl. After we walked in Lidl, we realized asking if they shop for healthy food was not an effective question. It was hard to target people who are food insecure as we didn’t specify the questions to fit the budget or other financial circumstances, so instead of going to Morrisons to conduct the next survey, we decided to go to Peckham Pantry to talk to families that were more food insecure. We learned that there are legalities that need to be considered when approaching customers of a brand. We also learned that we asked about the definition of “healthy”, not “affordability”.

In this research, the questionnaire methods don’t obtain many valuable data. Two factors attributed to this, namely ethics and quantity of sample. Ethics should be considered in this survey to avoid any possible discomfort that these questions might cause to the consumer populations. A question such as income, age, and household size are more private, especially income. Additionally, the relatively small amount of the sample challenges the reliability of the data. The survey was getting responses for 25 consumers in Lidl. Therefore, the impact of the number of samples on the quality of the feedback information should be considered.


When we visited Foodcycle, we saw that these programs are not only about food, but it’s also about meeting people as 50% of the visitors are regulars. We also noticed that the food was high in protein, which is not always seen as a balanced meal. Some thought that the quality is compromised when recycling food waste. Although Foodcycle is meant for families, senior citizens come there more often. Unfortunately, allergies weren’t taken into consideration.

Burgess Food Project

Binoli and I met Carolyn when we visited the Burgess Park Food Project at Glengall Wharf Garden. She showed us the raised beds that the produces were grown at and the compost pile, chicken den, and bee-hives.

We learned that they are heavily dependent on volunteers and funds. Season affects their activity quite drastically. They are not looking to feed the hungry, meaning they are not production-focused. Contrary to popular opinion, it doesn’t rain as much as the plants need in London, so they pay for the water supply to water the plants. They are run by a combination of paid staff and volunteers, but the paid staff controls the access. The produce is given to food banks. Families come with kids to volunteer to create fun activities for kids.

Social Farms and Gardens

From a phone call interview with Amber, we learned that community Gardens are underfunded and sometimes are used to replace day centers. We knew that we can’t solve the food shortages from community gardens, but gardening can increase resilience. Usually, volunteers are the only ones who can have access to grown food.

D’eynsford Estate

When we visited the estate for an interview, we learned that families and people who have mobility issues are put on the ground floor flats, which has raised bed gardens, but because of their mobility issues, those are not used. Herb Planters have been placed in entrances to encourage everyone to be involved. Some spices were planted, using herbs and spices is to encourage healthy cooking because you don’t need herbs or spices for microwave.

They found that word of mouth is powerful among African Caribbean and Middle Eastern families. They also found that foodbanks have a stigma, so it is hard to reach people who are under the low social-economic spectrum. To break down this barrier, the community gardens can play a role in holding more children base activities that can attract children to the garden first and then getting their parents involved.

We got to narrow down our target users to large families and single parents, which helped us to decide what question to ask and where to find them.
We decided to go to Peckham Library and Peckham Pantry to interview families instead of Morrisons because it’s more likely to find our users in these places.

Food Alliance Meeting

Abbie from SFAA invited us to the Food Alliance Meeting, which is a bi-monthly meeting where experts from different sectors came to discuss what they have done so far and what they need to work on or need help on. We wanted some more interactions from our stakeholders and experts, so we held a card shorting exercise to get information about the concerns of families who under food insecurity.

The meeting was held at Surrey Docks Farm

Abbie ran the workshop which mostly consisted of going around and talking about the individual organization’s roles and need. For our part of the workshop, I’ve asked each member to write down what elements make one food insecure and rank them from what is the biggest impact to the least.

From that workshop, we’ve learned that:

  • The top 3 barriers for families under food insecurity are income, food desert, and nutritional education, ranked consecutively.
  • There are already set up organizations to fight food insecurity.
  • Different experts had different focuses that they wanted to figure out. For example, one person talked about soil toxicity and needing the council’s help on bringing in scientists to measure them, whilst another person wanted to explore more about the potential of community fridges.
  • Local businesses were not included in this meeting, only food banks, charities, and community projects.

Meeting Families

We interviewed 13 people at Peckham Library and Peckham Pantry. Among them, we identified 8 families that are most likely under food insecure (highlighted in brown) by asking their weekly food budget, one of them is a single mom. Each family at least has 2 children.

Key findings were that large families (household size over 5 including 5) and single parent value getting full and saving time most, because they don’t have time, need to work. They are struggled with balancing between eating healthier and money. They care more about children than themselves. Nearly everyone never heard of these food organizations, the members who are using the pantry all live close by. Some moms struggled with balancing taste and nutrition for their babies. Some prefer word of mouth rather than searching by themselves. When we asked their opinions about growing food over half are interested but the issues are about no space, time-consuming, don’t know much about gardening.

New Ideas for a New Decade

This event was special because different community gardens all over the UK came to share their progress and their missions.

Through this, we learned that community gardens acknowledge they seem targeted towards white middle-class families. They want to target BAME individuals as well. Some were specifically for refugees to participate. They also had problems with antisocial behaviors such as taking things from the garden without helping out with growing. It was mentioned that public liability is a challenge. They have difficulty drawing the line about the ownership of the garden with the community, as it can be unclear who has responsibility. Another garden representative mentioned that many gardens do not work with local food businesses and see that option as a “stretch”.

Data Analysis

We built a research wall to list out all the key findings we’ve found so far.

1. From the research to different food organizations (Peckham pantry, food cycle, community garden), we find we should build resilience through empowering and upskilling people through teaching cooking, nutrition, and growing skills rather than providing them with food directly. There are mainly two reasons for this: 1. We do not have enough resources to support many people under food insecurity 2. Some people are ashamed of going to some organizations and get free food directly. We think a community garden is a good opportunity and decide to do more research about this part.

2. After interviewing the families in Peckham library and pantry we found most find the family has a very low budget and some families just want to get full. According to the messages from SFAA experts, the top 3 barriers for families under food insecurity: Income, food desert, nutritional education, which can also support our findings from families.

3. Based on our interview with families and community garden leaders, we find there is a gap between their opinions about gardening, Because most families have never done anything about gardening and know little about that. While according to community garden leaders’ opinions, gardening is an excellent way to reduce their stress and they will love it as long as they have a try. So we decide to bridge the gaps between community garden leaders and families and find a way to lead people to growing.

Summary of insights on community gardens by Pipi and Tucker

Based on these findings, we got two questions:

1. How might we tackle the stigma of gardening and involve more people to build resilience in the long term?

2. How might we provide more affordable healthy food offer to families who prefer word of mouth?

We used the persona matrix to look at our audience which was large families and we compared this with community garden leaders with their common goals.


Joey came up with a series that we worked through to come up with a research statement. We looked at our biggest insights, How Might We questions, and the research question.

We decided to continue with two ideas the idea of growing surplus food and the other idea was games.


We did crazy eights for the ideation keeping in mind the insights we just came up with (1 min on each idea). Then we grouped our ideas and put dots on the ones we wanted to continue to make a decision on which one we wanted to continue with. After brainstorming, we eventually split into two directions: planting, and game.

Initial Surplus Growing idea

We divided growing surplus food ideas into three stages from easy-to-grow spring onions to the ones taking a bit long time like spinach and garlic. This idea is for families to grow with their children at home. In terms of how to reach our users, we’re thinking to set up a booth for a pop-up event at the places which are easier to reach families such as community centers, Peckham Pantry, libraries. As word of mouth is more effective for families, we were thinking to ask community leaders such as faith group leaders to spread the words about the event. Digitally, a Facebook page might be a good place to share growing information, asking questions between families, get information about nearby community gardens.

Sticker game prototype by Luya

We realized making it interactive and sensorial was one of the things that would immediately put across our point. The second idea was sticker games where we provide ingredients stickers for kids and let them create a meal freely with them. This tests children’s aesthetic ability, color matching ability, and creativity. After their creation is complete, teachers can also choose awards such as the most influential meal, the most delicious meal, and the best-looking meal. The shortcoming was that the game is too simple, so this direction was defunct.

We then started designing a game that would educate as well as teach children to work with limited resources. We designed a system where children had to stick stickers on fruits and veggies that are according to nutritional value but soon realized that proteins, carbohydrates, etc are very complex words for children to understand. We also tried to make the game competitive by giving powers to each ingredient for them to make their recipe that is healthy which involved the trading of ingredients but we understood that it’s essential for children to know what ingredient goes well with what.

Meanwhile, the game idea development was facing a bit of difficulty, as there are a lot of existing games, the time left was too short to develop a new game for kids. We eventually decided to combine the two ideas as a whole, but we decided we will hold the growing booths at not just community centers but also afterschool as well. We developed the surplus growing idea further into 2 phases — the 1st phase is to raise interest by growing leftovers such as the roots of veggies and herbs by offering a variety of leftovers for children to grow in a pot and decorate as a mini garden in addition to flyers and stickers to include how to care for tips and upcoming event information. The 2nd phase was to do a family event at a community garden.

Plantation experiment — a mini garden of lettuce, quinoa, spring onion, carrot, and rosemary.

Peckham Pantry Feedback

Peckham Pantry gave us some very useful feedback when we interviewed families with children, mostly mothers. The test content was the mini-garden, flyer, sticker, and school day activities.

Origami flyer prototype by Tucker

Everyone loved the mini garden, they have never seen such a planting method (jar and rhizome). Some people say that it is good for children to develop their intelligence and hands-on ability, also can let children learn how food grows. Soil and roots can be seen in transparent jars. One of the moms suggested making a tutorial video so people can easily create at home, which led to the Facebook page idea.

Sticker prototype by Luya. All mothers said stickers can be a marketing tool.

They like the concept of origami but need further refinements. They say leaflets are often discarded by people, but if it is origami, it may increase the possibility that leaflets are kept and read by people. One interviewee suggested that we can compare origami vegetables with real vegetables. Three women worry about the complexity of origami and if it’s folded the information unreadable.

School Event flyer made by me.

We had good responses to school activities, but some educational element was recommended. Some people have suggested that in the decorate dustbin section, parents need to bring their home dustbin to school change to decorate the school dustbin, which is not convenient.

Class Feedback

Interestingly, there were comments that the ideation of the pot itself was simple enough, which encouraged us to push this further. We thought if we are going to cut out the stickers, school events, and flyers, we needed the pot design to be innovative. We concluded that we are going to demonstrate the user journey by role play.

Theory of change

We used the Theory of Change to help us think about why we are doing specific activities.

We worked through this to drill down on one cohesive idea because there were so many different ideations that were all over the place. We decided the main idea was planting leftover vegetables and then the other activities, such as a Facebook page for cooking recipes and putting the booths in schools and community centers, helped facilitate or develop this concept.

Hexagon matrix

We developed these details through the hexagon ideation method.

We wanted to think more in-depth on the ‘spindles’ of our concept. It helped us all understand how each activity played an overall part in the concept. Through this method, we decided on our next steps for finalizing our idea and divided which roles we are going to play to do that.


Logo design by Binoli and label design by Luya

We decided the best way to develop this idea is through a video that would present the user journey. The role play would help both us and the viewer to understand the effectiveness of the pot-growing booth.

Binoli: Makes the logo > Luya: Makes the label > Rebecca: Writes the script > Joey: Organize Workflow > Everyone: Shoot the video > Binoli: Edit the video > Pipi: Present to Southwark Council.

We got to thinking about what our brand name should be. we came up with several names like Magic Jar, Surplus Wonderland but we finally came to the name Sprouting Surplus because we wanted people to have an idea of what the brand is by the name itself.

Considering the factors such as settings, audio recording, video editing, multiple characters showing up, we separated the shooting for 2 half days, so that it can leave more time for video editing.

We decided to work backward from scene 3 to 1. We first cooked the pasta for scene 3 and then laid that out on the table. Since it was a dinner scene we wanted it to seem like it was dinner time but on-site we realized that it was too dark on the camera and so we tried to diffuse natural light by playing with the blinds just to get the lighting correct. We then shot the scene in two parts, first a long shot that showed everyone and then individual parts to focus on facial expressions. The same technique was followed for all three scenes. We shot scene 1 of the family buying the pots in the class and hence bought external lights to light up the location. The lights were adjusted just to the right amount to match the mood of scene 2 and 3. We also added some height to the table to match up to Joey’s level by placing various items from the class below the table. We also decided to record the audio separately just in case the audio from the camera wasn’t clear.


All the individual clips were then stitched together. The noise from the audio was first removed. The long shot of all the scenes was then trimmed to add the tighter frames of every character. Lip sync from every scene was then matched and the intensity of the audio was then matched. Some of the clips were warmer in tone than the other so they required color correction to match the mood of the video. We had a quick call after the editing to decide if background music was required and what the title sequence should look like from which we came to the consensus that the final product should be the title sequence and background music in the first and the last scene was essential.


From our research, we understood that growing food at home or in a community garden would not be able to solve issues when people are in crisis but we saw that growing food increases people’s education around healthy food and brings communities together. This area also appeared to have a lack of funding and innovation with community members being the pioneers of projects from a grassroots level.

Sprouting Surplus aims to increase resilience by encouraging families to grow leftover ingredients to educate families further on healthy eating. By using leftovers we are not increasing cost as these would otherwise be composted or thrown away and it is also interesting for children to see that this is not the end of life for vegetables but could be a new beginning. Research and discussion with members of the public showed that word of mouth was strongest which is why we decided to have booths at community centers, food banks, and schools where there might be vulnerable families who could use this program and would already be coming to the area. The booths can be run by community volunteers with very little training as the process is very simple and they will be encouraged to grow leafy greens such as herbs and spring onions which can be seen to grow in less than a week and only need shallow pots. Giving instant gratification for all family members. The program would be supported by a community Facebook page, similar to Change 4 life (which could be a partner), in which people can discuss how their pots are doing, community gardens can share events and tips and there will also be a variety of recipes to help them know how to cook with the things they can grow.

Feedback from Southwark

We had a presentation to the Southwark council and some inputs we got were that Southwark Council is seen as contaminated land so it must be on raised beds. We were also advised to look at factors that affect families and organizations and to analyze more of the research, specifically user journeys.

Social Innovator & Creative Changemaker

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store