Gathering together in the spirit of healthy and sustainable food: the SFP Conference 2023.

Soil Association Policy Advisor Cathy Cliff gives her take on the 2023 SFP in-person Conference at St Catherine's College, Oxford. 

Credit: Mara Galeano Carraro

Credit: Mara Galeano Carraro

Written by Soil Association Policy Advisor, Cathy Cliff.   

On the 24th March, 2023, on a very sunny (and then very rainy!) Friday in Oxford, at St. Catherine’s College, a very special in-person event took place; one I was happy to be part of.

It was the first Sustainable Food Places face-to-face conference since 2019 and the COVID pandemic that turned our lives upside down.

160 food champions from up and down the country, across all four UK nations gathered to celebrate success, share information, collaborate, and debate ideas and mechanisms to launch, distribute and maintain healthy, sustainable, and local food.

Sustainable Food Places (SFP) now celebrates 86 pioneering food partnerships from towns, cities, boroughs, districts and counties across the UK that are driving innovation and best practice on all aspects of healthy and sustainable food, whilst often being anchors in emergency food provision too.

The network is essential to making healthy and sustainable food a defining characteristic of where people live.

Following an introductory session and a panel from Oxford, Middlesbrough and the Vale of Glamorgan with plenty of claps and cheers for the amazing work being achieved by SFP, we broke into two workshop sessions, sandwiching a delicious lunch provided by the College.

With such a diverse range of workshop topics and partnerships' showcasings to choose from, I attended a policy-focused session on “The State of the UK Nations”, with representatives from the four corners of the UK bringing everyone up to date on progress (or lack of!) on food policy across the nations.

As I know from my work in the Policy Unit at the Soil Association, coordinating citizens engagement campaigns, Scotland is leading the charge on this with its Good Food Nation Act providing a positive framework for making good food the easy choice for everyone through the enactment of National Good Food plans. Wales is also debating a food bill. Westminster is falling woefully behind, despite all the good work published in the National Food Strategy, it is networks like Sustainable Food Places filling the gaps where the government is not addressing them. Northern Ireland is also seeing good progress in this area, despite the lack of government and Ministers to sign things off!

For the afternoon session I joined presentations from SFP coordinators in Wales - Blaenau Gwent and Rhondda Cynon Taf – and the challenges and opportunities facing their brilliant work in these communities, only recently dominated by heavy industry.

There is so much for the Sustainable Food Places network to celebrate. The day’s final session brought everyone together to award partnerships for their fantastic efforts and achievements in promoting healthy and sustainable food.

Our food system needs to change, and fast, if we are to tackle the climate, biodiversity and health-related crises we face, not least in the UK. Sustainable Food Places is truly solutions-focused, tackling everything from food poverty and food deserts, to cooking and growing skills and putting good, local food on the map of communities across our Nations. The Oxford Conference was inspiring and uplifting with a tremendous spirit of collaboration. Well done everyone!

Photos credit: Mara Galeano Carraro, SFP Comms lead

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