By Chandra Pankhania, Food Leadership and Network Manager at Food for Life
When I was asked to host a Soil Association staff experience day to demonstrate the connectivity of good food for all, the first place I thought of was my hometown of Bury and the thriving market we have.
One of the oldest markets in the UK, first granted a charter in 1440s, and hosting over 370 stalls across its expansive three sites, not only is Bury Market seen as the jewel in the crown for Bury, but it was also voted Britian's favourite market in 2022, with coach loads of tourists coming from across the UK to explore it’s treasures each market day.
Bury Market is a hotspot for people across the region and beyond for local, organic and seasonal produce with short supply chains, and is a small snapshot of how the whole borough of Bury demonstrates Food for Life’s philosophy of a place-based approach. Many Food for Life programmes – Food for Life Served Here, My Food Community Leadership Development, Sustainable Food Places – convene in this melting pot of climate action from Bury Council, which includes a commitment to improving access to healthy and sustainable food for everyone across the borough.
At the market, ready for our guided tour of all its many delights and local produce, I meet with my fellow Soil Association colleagues at the offices, where David Catterall, Head of Commercial Services at Bury Council, is busy serving up tea and coffee. Also there, is Francesca Vale, Public Health Practitioner for Food & Health and a vital part of our Food for Life and Bury collaboration, who enthusiastically introduces us to key people across the Bury Food Partnership, one of the current 94 place-based food partnerships in our Sustainable Food Places network.
Francesca’s Food for Life journey started as one of our original My Food Community members in 2021, a programme where good food champions come together to learn, connect and take action to build leadership across the food movement. Whilst taking part in My Food Community, Bury Council launched their Food Strategy to Eat, Live, Love Food to bring organisations, departments, individuals, and communities together to share a local vision and action plan.Learning has most meaning when it leads to action is a key principle set out at the start of My Food Community (MFC). With the grant provided by participation in MFC , Francesca partnered with Katie Jenkinson of Trust House to share their learning and create a toolkit to support food banks wanting to transition to a food pantry model via the path to pantry. The pantry model brings dignity, choice, and independence to those needing emergency food provision. Katie joins us on our tour and tells us how the pantry now offers more fresh fruit and veg, recipes and is promoting cookery classes at Bury Adult Learning Centre.
David and Francesca are a double act as we weave through market stalls, informing us that the work of the food partnership isn’t just about improving health of the people but also the health of the local economy and the planet. Bury School Meals Catering offer a Bronze Food for Life Served Here certified menu across 58 sites. The service is now using more local suppliers, and their delivery distance has been reduced from over 50 miles away to less than 10 miles. The school meals offer a seasonal, freshly prepared menu and parents are informed of suppliers and assurance schemes, such as Marine Stewardship Council fish and Red Tractor meat. All recipes used are shared with the schools, parents and carers. This openness from the catering service has built trust in the quality of food being supplied to young children across the borough, and I know my children love the dinners that cook Catherine makes at their school.
As we fill our bags with our shopping of local cheeses, Winberry Pie and slipper socks, owners call out and offer us world famous Bury Black Pudding – I go for the vegan option which is made from beetroot! At Bury market you can getting anything from fruit and veg to household furniture. Whatever you need you will find.
The timing of the Food Partnership couldn’t have been better. Adopting My Food Community leadership techniques and building a strong local network, the partnership decided to apply for their Sustainable Food Places award, achieving Bronze swiftly. Leon Ballin, Sustainable Food Places Manager credits Bury with the fastest transition from membership to award due to the systems thinking adopted early on in the partnership.
Francesca is full of glee when she talks to us and points out the stall holders around the market that accept Healthy Start cards with the aim of increasing take-up of the national scheme for pregnant and young mothers across Bury. The scheme has seen a multi-faceted approach, including multimedia signage around town, planned cooking classes, links to the Department for Work and Pensions, and promotion through family centres. Some of the food pantries across town are also accepting Healthy Start cards, offering value for money and the nutritional safety net families need.
We have come back to the market offices and David is sharing the future plans for Bury Market. Recapping his time speaking to Members of Parliament in Westminster with Sustainable Food Places, he tells us the power for a better food future is in the partnership model where funding can be sought collectively and delivered with co-benefits. Only by working together on a joint vision will we succeed.
"The work of the food partnership, driven by Francesca and the brilliant wider group has enabled me to embed a quality food and climate strategy into Commercial Services. This works to reduce health inequalities and support economic growth by using the strengths of our partnership. It feeds into our Council’s overarching strategy, which proves how important food is to the community and wider public services.’" said David on reflection of the importance of their work to improve food within the borough.
As Bury’s movement grows stronger, the levelling-up fund is allowing for refurbishment of the market with a flexi hall that can be used to host events, the catering service are looking to go for the Green Kitchen Standard to ensure climate-friendly meals are part of Bury Council’s decarbonisation plans, and the Bury Food Partnership is planning to upgrade their Bronze Sustainable Food Places award to Silver.
With all the talk and touring around food, we walk over to Olive’s Kitchen for soup and sandwiches.
Finally, a trip to Bury isn’t complete without paying homage to Victoria Wood, the original Dinner Lady.
Since our guided tour of the Bury Market, Francesca and David have led further tours for university researchers, Greater Manchester towns and councils, Sustainable Food partnerships and interested staff and local elected officials.