Overcoming barriers to food access in Liverpool City Region

Researchers from the University of Liverpool are collaborating with commercial, government, and charity sector partners to improve healthy food access in the Liverpool City Region.

The economic downturn and uncertainty generated by COVID-19 has heightened food insecurity worldwide, a trend that disproportionately impacts marginalised groups and will likely persist long-term. The UK is one of the worst-performing nations in Europe regarding food insecurity, with approximately 2.2 million people experiencing severe food insecurity each year.

The University of Liverpool’s Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Food Systems (CESFS) and the Virtual Engineering Centre (VEC) have teamed up with Liverpool City Council (LCC), Liverpool based fresh food caterer Can Cook, and Liverpool’s food alliance Feeding Liverpool, to address food insecurity and food access by creating an interactive model of healthy food access and related determinants in Liverpool.

Current food systems are inefficient in their distribution and wasteful with food. They are also major contributors to the burden of greenhouse gas emissions. Distribution issues are a concern to many people in Liverpool, who must have the time and transportation needed to access the food they want and can afford. The University’s partners at Feeding Liverpool and Can Cook state that their clients struggle with the difficulty of finding affordable, timely, convenient transport to their preferred grocery stores. Research suggests that there are hotspots of poor healthy food access that could be mitigated by developing targeted solutions to food insecurity that maximise local resources to produce sustainable, local, and fair food systems.

The new Liverpool Food Mapping Dashboard uses existing University research and open-source data regarding store distribution, store type, opening hours, and transportation hubs, alongside more personal determinants of accessibility, to identify areas with limited access and highlight hotspots of poor food access in Liverpool.

The interactive dashboard is publicly accessible and will function as a tool for local actors in food retail, food provision, and infrastructure planning to design efficient interventions to improve food access to local people (e.g. modifying bus routes, zoning regulations and incentives) and monitor, overlay, and analyse determinants of food access over time.

So far, the team have developed a “Healthy Food Access Score” based on the components of the map (Transportation, Stores, and Regional characteristics). They can analyse the score and components that comprise the score by small areas (LSOAs) in Liverpool. The team will refine the analytic tool to allow “what-if” scenarios of LCC policy change supporting funding applications in Merseyside, as well as similar UK and international cities.

Further work is planned to test how the model can be replicated in other cities, and most importantly, to “sense-check” with people experiencing poor food access in Liverpool to see if the findings are accurate.

The research project team brings together a wealth of knowledge and experience including the University of Liverpool’s Jonathan Rushton (CESFS and Professor of Animal Health and Food Systems Economics (N8 Chair), Dr Grace Patterson (PDRA,  CESFS), Dr Andy Levers, (Executive Director Institute of Digital Engineering and Autonomous Systems IDEAS), Dr Ana Campos Marin (VEC Technical Team Leader), Dr Yang Zhang (Project Engineer, VEC) and Shaun Johnson (student, VEC.)

Dr Grace Patterson said: “Collaboration between previously unrelated University research centres (like VEC and CESFS) stimulates new ways of thinking and new possibilities for research outputs, which will hopefully lead to real impact in the city. It was exciting to move beyond our typical research techniques and capabilities to develop an interface for exploration of food access in Liverpool. Many different people and groups are passionate about good food access in Liverpool, and I hope this tool can help people across different sectors of influence think strategically about where and how to act to help everyone in Liverpool access good food.”

Dr Naomi Maynard, Network Coordinator of Feeding Liverpool said: “This dashboard is an important tool as Liverpool works towards a Good Food Plan. With several ‘food deserts’ in Liverpool – areas containing two or fewer supermarkets or convenience stores – understanding and improving food access is vital for our city. This dashboard will support all of us working to create a city where everyone can access good food to make wise, well informed decisions.”

Get involved

The project team are keen to receive feedback on the Liverpool Food Mapping Dashboard from local businesses, charities and anyone interested in food provision. You can do this by emailing the team at foodmappingliverpool@gmail.com. or via the website link here.

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