A Multi-Scalar Exploration into the Internal and External Drivers of Citizen Participation in Community Food Growing Projects in Lambeth, London

Elizabeth Bos

The aim of this doctoral research is to explore the internal and external drivers influencing citizens' participation in urban community food growing projects. It seeks to do this by firstly aiming to understand the urban context in which types of place-based community food growing takes place, within the chosen case study of Lambeth, London. Secondly, internal drivers of participation are examined with a specific focus on motivational values at the individual level. Lastly, the external drivers of participation underpinning citizens' participation are investigated, which include the local and wider structural factors at play. 

Surmounting evidence demonstrates the link between community food growing activities and positive outcomes associated with wellbeing. The rise in food growing activities in urban environments is situated in a context where, presently, social isolation, loneliness and decreasing levels of wellbeing and neighbourhood belonging are experienced across the population, heightened by city life.  In general, participation is thought to be a good thing for individuals and society as a whole, particularly in community-based activities such as community food growing projects. Given the rise in the phenomenon of community food growing projects as an everyday practice, relatively little remains around the processes of participation in these spaces, which is crucial for understanding the significance of the growing phenomenon. As such, this research uniquely combines a focus on participation with a critical realist research philosophy to shed new insight into community food growing. It is distinctively situated within contemporary understandings of more collective and participatory forms of food governance and networking activities, at the scale of the city, necessary to understanding wider contextual influences. Community-based and estate-based projects have been at the heart of the study, meaning that it has a highly practical dimension for organisations in the borough currently supporting and involved in such projects.  Moreover, incorporating a focus on city-level and borough-level food governance structures and collaborative arrangements contributes towards critical understandings participation, for example, whether it is, or should be part of an alternative food movement. Finally, the research has revealed how the right support for projects based on residents’ interests can promote individual and community wellbeing, neighbourhood change, and respite from everyday pressures.

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