Urban poverty and the role of UK food aid organisations in enabling segregating and transitioning spaces of food access

20 Mar 2024, 12:22 p.m.
Morven G. McEachern, Caroline Moraes, Lisa Scullion and Andrea Gibbons

Austerity-based policy measures have exacerbated urban poverty and social inequalities across the UK, resulting in precarious levels of urban poverty. A spatial shift of responsibility for addressing poverty across the UK has also taken place, moving it from public institutions to third sector organisations. In the case of food poverty specifically, as many as 6000 different forms of food aid providers now exist across UK urban areas, which include foodbanks, social supermarkets, churches, and surplus food redistributors. However, more research is needed on how these organisations operate both spatially and relationally, and the extent to which they alleviate urban food poverty. Our work responds to this research gap by addressing the following research question: how do spaces of food aid provision address urban food poverty and facilitate transition from poverty-based, segregating spaces into more secure spaces of food access? We tackle this research question through the theoretical lens of segregating spaces, which are an exclusionary type of space within Castilhos and Dolbec’s (2018) broader typology of public, market, emancipating and segregating spaces.


Through qualitative in-depth interviews, our organisational participants originated from a variety of food aid providers and were located in the Greater Manchester and West Midlands regions, two regions that feature regularly in the top 10% most deprived areas of the UK. Both areas have high numbers of households in receipt of emergency food parcels. Our findings illuminate the tensions and misalignments that occur among the diverse logics orchestrating different models of food aid provision. These tensions then generate the impetus for transitional spaces, which in this work manifest as social supermarkets. Consequently, our research points to the need for in-between, fluid spaces, which address at least in part the misalignments among external forces and the many competing logics that challenge food aid providers and that prevent those accessing food aid from transitioning to more secure spaces of food access.


We, thus, extend Castilhos and Dolbec’s (2018) spatial typology by establishing an additional type of space, that of transitional space. Specifically, we propose and define transitional space as a liminal spatial type that is fluidly situated between public, market, emancipating and segregating space types. Further, in the case of food poverty alleviation, we establish that social supermarkets are a manifestation of transitional space, operating between the segregating space of emergency food provision and those of more secure spaces of food access. This extended conceptualisation allows for a more nuanced and theory-informed depiction of urban poverty, including how it is spatialised and experienced in the context of urban food aid. This contribution is significant, as it offers societally relevant evidence of the relationship between spatial segregation and social divisions, which, in our research, apply to areas of regional deprivation across British cities, but which can be extended to other contexts, too.


Read the full open access paper on Urban Studies OnlineFirst here.



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