Posted by BSUFN member, Abigail Wincott.
Hastings Bites Back is a new kind of research group. It draws members from across the Hastings area, and researchers from the University of Brighton, who have come together to produce research in response to the most pressing food issues, as decided by members and by the general public.
The project began last Autumn with a recruitment phase. I phoned dozens of food and drink related businesses, clubs, food banks, council departments and community groups, as well as any existing research
groups, like the Hastings and Rother Family History Group. With the support of the University of Brighton’s Hastings campus, 1,000 postcards were printed, which I handed out round town.
I held a research taster activity stall at the Hastings Herring Fair. Through the taster stall and postcard campaign a large number of suggestions came in, telling is what kind of food issues people wanted us to work on.
Around 30 people have signed up to take part in Hastings Bites Back, with a core of 12 active members. The group is as diverse as you would expect from those beginnings – artists, teachers, councillors, business people, a scientist, local historians and me, a media researcher from the university.
As fantastic as that kind of diversity is, there was always the risk that we would have different interests and incompatible expectations of the project.
Yet so far that hasn’t been the case. We realised our ideas were threaded through with common themes: an interest in how spaces within the town change over time, in what has been lost – food knowledge, disappeared businesses, ways of life, lost sounds and smells and long lost people. Big themes motivated many of the ideas – themes we already know are not unique to Hastings: that modern industrial food production has brought us plenty, but at a cost to the environment, our health and wellbeing. That the town is changing so fast, it’s hard to tell what is for the better and what for the worse. All of these were represented in the suggestions from the general public too.
Over the next 6 months, the group will come together for a series of meetings, to plan a cluster of small projects – from family history research to developing a cookery course or producing an art installation – which work together to achieve a set of overall research aims: to make Hastings more productive, to understand the different forms of value that food production in urban spaces might have, and ultimately, to enable us to improve our quality of life in our town.
What can you do?
You can join the group as a researcher, and take part in one of the cluster of projects or add your own. For example, you might want to develop a new food product, start a community food initiative or research the history of your street.
Alternatively, you might want to apply high quality research in your business, community group or organisation. If so you can help make that research relevant for your needs by talking to us.
It’s in our interests to make sure as many people as possible see and benefit from our work so we want to hear from everyone about what they think the project might do for them.