Capturing the lived experience of food banks

Capturing the lived experience of food bank clients and volunteers

Aims of the Scoping Study:

Increasingly, food banks are being permitted to step in as providers of emergency care in times of personal crisis. Although recipients of food parcels must be referred to the food bank by an agency such as social services, job centre, health centre or school, no follow up is done to track the long term status of the referrals as this falls outside the scope of the government’s benefit system. The aim of this scoping study, being carried out at the Research Centre for Architecture and Sustainable Environment at the University of Kent,  is to increase understanding of how food banks are embedded into community ecologies, and to identify the points at which they intersect with formal, and informal, local networks and organisations. To achieve this aim we will:

  • Gather a wide range of information from people familiar with the day-to-day lived experience of food banks. We will collect information on the significant everyday places and encounters of food bank clients and volunteers. We will seek to understand where they obtain informal support for the issues they face. We are interested in the skills possessed by food bank clients and volunteers, and the ways in which they offer support to others in their local community. This information will provide a rich description of how food banks are embedded in a broader environment of community organisations, resources and networks.
  • Superimpose collected information onto a spatial representation. The qualitative information will be overlaid on a spatial representation (map) of the relevant geographical area. The emphasis will be on placing the lived experience of food banks as described by clients and volunteers onto a spatial representation of the areas they inhabit and are meaningful to them. This process will be sensitive to issues of identification.
  • Examine the potential to understand food bank support networks in the local area. Food banks are intended as a short-term ‘sticking plaster’ solution for people in crisis. Describing the lived experience of food bank clients and volunteers on a spatial map may indicate correlations between aspects of geographical location and these lived experiences.

The proposed work connects with the CCNetwork+ themes of welfare and austerity through the lens of food banks.


Research Outputs

Nikolopolou, M. and Martin, K, ‘Capturing the lived experience of foodbank clients and volunteers: Final Report‘. Working Papers of the Communities & Culture Network+ Vol.4 (Oct.2014).


Key People

Prof. Marialena Nikolopoulou (Principal Investigator) is Director of the Research Centre for Architecture and Sustainable Environment at the University of Kent and will devote 15 hours of her time over the 9.5-month period to oversee the project, participate in meetings and the workshop with the participants. She has extended experience on the way people experience and interact with their environment, including physical environment, sensory awareness, and streetscape. She has participated in numerous EU and UK/US-funded research projects on sustainability, use of open spaces and environmental quality, including perception of environmental stimuli. Her work on outdoor environment has received various awards from diverse bodies (such as the Royal Institute of British Architects and the International Society of Biometeorology), as well as best papers prizes. Nikolopoulou has regularly worked at the interface between different disciplines and has been invited to give talks internationally in workshops, research seminars and conferences. She was recently involved in two EPSRC projects focusing on use of space and i) comfort in airport terminals, ii) the effect of design interventions to disrupt civil inattention through the use of art and digital interventions. She is currently a Co-I on the AHRC Communities, Cultures, Environments and Sustainability pilot “Eco-cultural production in a Changing World” and on the EPSRC Digital Economy: Communities and Culture Network+.

Karen Martin (Research Assistant) will be employed on the project on a 40% basis. She will work with partner organisations to identify issues and questions, find participants and gather data. Karen will develop techniques for gathering, analysing and representing data. Karen has a background in interactive art, web development and research and has worked in a variety of positions in community arts organisations, web design agencies and academia. She is about to complete her EngD investigating design strategies for urban computing in in-between spaces. Karen worked with Proboscis, an arts organisation, on a number of projects using experimental ethnographic techniques such as participant walks, cultural probes and research by design on social engagement projects that aimed to help people discover, communicate and share things they value. Karen has worked at the University of Kent since January 2010 on the EPSRC funded projects “Shades of Grey: Towards a Science of Interventions for Eliciting and Detecting Notable Behaviours” and the “Digital Economy: Communities and Culture Network+” scoping study on “The potential of urban screens to form new audiences for heritage institutions: a case study of the BBC Big Screens”. She is design unit tutor at Plymouth University for unit in-between which explores strategies of community engagement for architects. Karen is also co-founder and director of Makerhood CIC, a social enterprise based in Lambeth that supports local makers through peer support and business development opportunities. In March 2012 Makerhood won an Innovation Award from Lambeth Council. Her links with Lambeth Council and relationships within the community are particularly relevant for the current project.