Brighton's fresh food deserts

Moulsecoomb Way shops

Moulsecoomb Way shops

First published in News by

Access to fresh food has never been such an important issue. Between “five a day”, Jamie’s school dinners and growing demand for allotments, we have never lived in a more health-conscious society. So why then are there parts of Sussex with little or no access to basic ingredients? TIM RIDGWAY reports on the rise of the “food desert”.

It may not look like the Sahara or the Gobi.

But this quiet residential council estate is classified as a desert, at least when it comes to food.

This is because its thousands of residents do not have easy access to fresh items on their doorstep.

But, with the growth of supermarkets and bigger edge of city stores, should we care?

Food growers certainly think so which is why they are leading a campaign to get more people growing and eating healthier, particularly in poorer areas.

Despite being a thriving and compact urban area, Brighton and Hove has its fair share of “food deserts”.

These include North Moulsecoomb, North Portslade and Bevendean, all areas with a high concentration of social housing.

Vic Borrill, director of Brighton and Hove Food Partnership, said: “Food desert is a term used to refer to areas of the city where there aren’t shops selling basic fresh ingredients, such as fruit, vegetables and bread, within walking distance. Or those that do have a poor selection and high price tag.

'Unhealthy options'

“Food deserts are often compounded by the availability of ‘unhealthy options’, such as pizza and kebab shops in the same neighbourhood.

“So the issues are associated with access – cost of getting to a supermarket by bus, problems in cold weather, problems for older people who rely on others to take them shopping.

“Access in terms of finances – the nearby unhealthy options are often much cheaper than the healthy ones.”

It does not take long to find the proof behind the claims.

Turn the clock back 50 years and the Moulsecoomb estate looked very different.

There used to be a thriving butchers and a popular greengrocers in the shopping parade in Barcombe Road, Brighton.

Now they have been replaced by a chip shop and a funeral parlour.

Takeaways

Within a mile of the centre of the estate, food options are limited to a bingo hall, a number of takeaways, a few convenience stores and a couple of cafés located on the fringes.

For those hoping to pick up a lettuce or a loaf of bread, they are faced with two-mile journey to Lewes Road, London Road or Asda in Hollingbury Dave Murtagh, chairman of the East Moulsecoomb Tenants and Residents’ Association, said: “The term desert is a bit strange. I think it’s just supply and demand.

“People did not use their local shops due to cost as it’s a lot cheaper to go to the supermarket.

“People can get vegetables delivered which does not work out too expensive.

“I would have thought any estate like ours would have the same problem around buying fresh food.”

But healthy eating champions claim the reason to tackle the issue food deserts is not just about supporting those on low incomes, but also to confront obesity and to become green.

Moves are already in place to change things.

Food co-operative

Students in Moulsecoomb have formed a university based food co-operative which means for a few pounds a week they get a bag of fresh vegetables that they pick up at the campus.

xhead On Wednesday, school children and residents will start planting a community orchard in Woollard’s Field, Falmer, near to the site of The Keep archive centre.

It is one of more than 100 community growing projects in the city.

One of the more popular and rooted in the community is Moulsecoomb Forest Garden, which was set up in 1994.

It aims to offer horticultural, carpentry, woodland management, cooking, educational and social opportunities for those involved.

Warren Carter, its founder, said: “Our project isn’t just about gardening but plays an important part of the social glue that binds communities together, with all types of people, young and old, pupils having problems at school, people with learning difficulties working together in a safe and pleasant environment.”

Then there is The Bevy, a project to turn a pub with a troubled past into the first community-owned pub on an estate in the country.

As well as offering a place for people to drink, it also will offer community space and a kitchen to provide cut-price meals to locals.

But to be a success, these champions are aware it will take grassroots support to have a wider impact on society.

Talking point: To what extent do you feel there is limited choice when it comes to buying fresh food in Brighton? Are there too many take aways? Are we too reliant on supermarkets? Do you miss your old corner shop? Share your views by commenting below or email letters@theargus.co.uk.

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Comments (8)

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2:29pm Sun 9 Dec 12

Maxwell's Ghost says...

And this is why there is a reliance on the car in this city because its made up of many estates with few services on the doorstep including doctors, dentists, chemists, sipermarkets etc
However, some of the Eco obsessives posting on here who lives right in the city centre with everything at their fingertips refuse to accept the city's diverse nature.
I often pick up a relative in north Portslade take him to the doctors then off to get a prescription then over to the supermarket for a weekly shop. That can take a few hours in the car squeezed between work but on public transport it would take a whole day, require walking steep hills and quite far distances and the old boy isn't up to it.
Never mind I'm sure the cycle lanes will help.
And this is why there is a reliance on the car in this city because its made up of many estates with few services on the doorstep including doctors, dentists, chemists, sipermarkets etc However, some of the Eco obsessives posting on here who lives right in the city centre with everything at their fingertips refuse to accept the city's diverse nature. I often pick up a relative in north Portslade take him to the doctors then off to get a prescription then over to the supermarket for a weekly shop. That can take a few hours in the car squeezed between work but on public transport it would take a whole day, require walking steep hills and quite far distances and the old boy isn't up to it. Never mind I'm sure the cycle lanes will help. Maxwell's Ghost
  • Score: 0

2:33pm Sun 9 Dec 12

Nitrous_McBread says...

I used to live down the road from Morris Neighbourhood Stores in Bevendean. Their food selection was abysmal, and massively unhealthy - with outrageous prices to match. And when they finally introduced a tiny selection of fresh fruit and veg, the quality was dismal and the price tag utterly outrageous.

If I'd been disabled, even if I'd had a mobility scooter it wouldn't have been able to get me back up the hill with shopping if I'd journeyed to Sainsbury's on the Lewes Road, and money's so tight that presuming the disabled have access to the internet, they often don't have enough for the minimum spend on an online shopping order - and not enough for the delivery cost either.

I know it was a business and had no mandate to think about the welfare of the community, but I find when you show people respect, people respect you back and are more willing to deal with you. I haven't been back to this shop in a few months, but I hope they are treating their more immobile customers with greater respect these days.
I used to live down the road from Morris Neighbourhood Stores in Bevendean. Their food selection was abysmal, and massively unhealthy - with outrageous prices to match. And when they finally introduced a tiny selection of fresh fruit and veg, the quality was dismal and the price tag utterly outrageous. If I'd been disabled, even if I'd had a mobility scooter it wouldn't have been able to get me back up the hill with shopping if I'd journeyed to Sainsbury's on the Lewes Road, and money's so tight that presuming the disabled have access to the internet, they often don't have enough for the minimum spend on an online shopping order - and not enough for the delivery cost either. I know it was a business and had no mandate to think about the welfare of the community, but I find when you show people respect, people respect you back and are more willing to deal with you. I haven't been back to this shop in a few months, but I hope they are treating their more immobile customers with greater respect these days. Nitrous_McBread
  • Score: 0

5:09pm Sun 9 Dec 12

BN1 JB says...

Supply and demand. The fruit & Veg would perish if stocked. Pizzas, tinned veg, crisps and frozen chips is what keeps these shops open, not to mention scratch cards, fags and special brew. Oh sorry I forgot the vino for the girls....
Supply and demand. The fruit & Veg would perish if stocked. Pizzas, tinned veg, crisps and frozen chips is what keeps these shops open, not to mention scratch cards, fags and special brew. Oh sorry I forgot the vino for the girls.... BN1 JB
  • Score: 0

5:15pm Sun 9 Dec 12

Plantpot says...

The Masai word for hunger translates as "having to eat plants". Food for thought, pun intended.
The Masai word for hunger translates as "having to eat plants". Food for thought, pun intended. Plantpot
  • Score: 0

7:19pm Sun 9 Dec 12

DougM says...

Plantpot wrote:
The Masai word for hunger translates as "having to eat plants". Food for thought, pun intended.
Not really that thought provoking - the Masai live in an area of the world where nutritious plant life is sparse due to the low-nutrient and water-starved soil, therefore rendering meat the most rewarding foodstuff.
None of that applies in our society or environment, rendering what I suspect to be the subtext of your post wholly irrelevant.
[quote][p][bold]Plantpot[/bold] wrote: The Masai word for hunger translates as "having to eat plants". Food for thought, pun intended.[/p][/quote]Not really that thought provoking - the Masai live in an area of the world where nutritious plant life is sparse due to the low-nutrient and water-starved soil, therefore rendering meat the most rewarding foodstuff. None of that applies in our society or environment, rendering what I suspect to be the subtext of your post wholly irrelevant. DougM
  • Score: 0

9:46pm Sun 9 Dec 12

HJarrs says...

Hats off to those involved in the various projects that go some way to improving the lot of the residents of these food deserts.

This is a complicated problem, clearly more and better shops would help, but many of those with the energy and intelligence to run a good shop can make an easier living elsewhere, many potential customers (the ones with the money) are happy to go to the supermarket. Perhaps there is opportunity for community shops?

One thing that is important is that people feel confident to cook with fresh ingredients in the first place. How to get residents involved and the project funded would seem to be key.
Hats off to those involved in the various projects that go some way to improving the lot of the residents of these food deserts. This is a complicated problem, clearly more and better shops would help, but many of those with the energy and intelligence to run a good shop can make an easier living elsewhere, many potential customers (the ones with the money) are happy to go to the supermarket. Perhaps there is opportunity for community shops? One thing that is important is that people feel confident to cook with fresh ingredients in the first place. How to get residents involved and the project funded would seem to be key. HJarrs
  • Score: 0

10:20am Mon 10 Dec 12

Stoves says...

This is natural cleansing at its best, let the poor continue with their bad diets and weed them out.

Keep eating poorly, smoking, drinking, taking drugs or anything that will reduce your fertility rate. Give the rest of us hard working people a break.

Less poor people - less taxes!!!
This is natural cleansing at its best, let the poor continue with their bad diets and weed them out. Keep eating poorly, smoking, drinking, taking drugs or anything that will reduce your fertility rate. Give the rest of us hard working people a break. Less poor people - less taxes!!! Stoves
  • Score: 0

1:23pm Mon 10 Dec 12

Verushka26 says...

Thank you Argus for writing about food deserts. I'm local to the Moulsecoomb/Bevendea
n area and understand the issue first-hand. I'm lucky to have my health, mobility and a flexible schedule to afford me better food options and more time to find them, but can appreciate that many people cannot do the same. So I hope that we will soon see local greengrocers, butchers, bakers and more coming back places like Bevendean. It certainly sounds like there is growing interest in it.

Also, I'm part of the University food co-op, and wanted to mention that it's open to the local community, not just students. But it would be even better if communities started their own local co-ops or buying groups closer to home, in a way that best fits the needs and schedules of those involved.
Thank you Argus for writing about food deserts. I'm local to the Moulsecoomb/Bevendea n area and understand the issue first-hand. I'm lucky to have my health, mobility and a flexible schedule to afford me better food options and more time to find them, but can appreciate that many people cannot do the same. So I hope that we will soon see local greengrocers, butchers, bakers and more coming back places like Bevendean. It certainly sounds like there is growing interest in it. Also, I'm part of the University food co-op, and wanted to mention that it's open to the local community, not just students. But it would be even better if communities started their own local co-ops or buying groups closer to home, in a way that best fits the needs and schedules of those involved. Verushka26
  • Score: 0

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