Draft Belfast SFP Framework and Action Plan

Miriam Turley, Patricia Wallace, Beth Bell, Sinéad Furey

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned reportpeer-review


1. Executive Summary

1.1 Introduction
The issue of sustainable food is complex and multi-layered, requiring action by communities, public and private sector organisations and businesses, and local, regional, national, and global governments; it can only be delivered by many partners working together. The world’s focus is on climate change and the cost-of-living and inequality crisis. People’s awareness is heightened to the damage we are doing to our planet and there is more recognition that our food production system must change.

In 2020 Belfast adopted its first Resilience Strategy which set out one of its Ambitions to develop greater sustainability around the food system in the City. Taking a systemic, evidence-based approach to strengthening Belfast’s food system will improve the City’s resilience to future shocks.

With local food partnerships across the UK and in Northern Ireland adopting and progressing with the Sustainable Food Places (SFP) Framework, it is timely to revisit Belfast City Council’s work for the SFP Bronze Award and co-design an Action Plan for progression to Silver and Gold.

1.2 Objectives of the Assignment
The overall objective was to develop a Sustainable Food Places Framework for Belfast, with associated action plan, building on the work that was undertaken in 2015 to secure the initial Bronze Sustainable Food Place Award.

Work on the food partnership is commissioned as part of the work of the Resilience and Sustainability Board through the Belfast Resilience Strategy.

The outcomes identified in the initial brief were:
• Initial scoping and stakeholder engagement
• Belfast Sustainable Food Place Framework and action plan

1.3 Stakeholder Engagement, Research and Evidence Gathering
The research team carried out a wide-ranging programme of in-depth interviews with key stakeholders: these included people who had sat on the Belfast Food Network (BFN, now Nourish NI) advisory committee as well as key people within the community, voluntary and social enterprise (CVSE) sector, Council, government and industry, with an emphasis on balancing representatives of large organisations and small organisations. Some key stakeholders were identified because of their job or role, and others because of the person themselves, and the contribution they have made in the past to sustainable food over a variety of roles.

Beyond key stakeholders, our surveys were sent out far and wide, and to a certain extent there was a process of self-selection in who responded (for example just one major supermarket responded). The research team believes this is valid, as working with the willing is a sound principle for building a movement. The time parameters of the research also limited the extent to which we could complete a thorough survey of the whole food system, and we believe this is the work of the partnership, and once all actors are engaged much of the work of the partnership will be achieved. However, we think we have presented a valuable representation of the major parts of Belfast’s food system.
The purpose of these interviews was to firstly engage stakeholders, to understand the food system in Belfast in order to understand who the key stakeholders are, what the main areas of work and issues are, and to get feedback on what structures would be most appropriate for a Bronze re-accreditation and a future Silver Bid. It has been 7 years since the Bronze bid submission, and BCC has lost the institutional memory of the work done. This report aims to gather all the work done and being done to enable BCC to take a lead in future SFP work. We have included illustrative quotes from stakeholders in pink throughout the report. These interviews followed the structure of the topic guide included in Appendix 2, along with a list of contributing stakeholders in Appendix 1.
The research team also carried out desktop research into best practice and current thinking in food justice across the UK, and aimed to document (as far as possible in the timeframe available), the work being done around sustainable food in Belfast, including providing an up-to-date version of the Belfast Food Network’s records on initiatives across the city.
1.4 Summary Findings and Recommendations
Interviews with stakeholders uncovered a number of key themes around current work on Sustainable Food in Belfast. In summary, we are at an important moment in history and multiple sources of evidence show that our food system needs to radically change to adapt to evolving circumstances. In light of this and multiple current crises (climate, cost-of-living and inequality, biodiversity) there is an urgent need for a joined-up overview of activities in the City.

The Sustainable Food Places Award is seen as a suitable base framework for achieving this change, as it aligns with the priorities of stakeholders, as well as with the Belfast Agenda, the DAERA Northern Ireland Food Strategy Framework, and is an established system across the UK with proven success for making change happen.

Belfast City Council (BCC) is seen as the most suitable organisation to take on the role of coordinating efforts, facilitating communication between partners across the city, and taking a lead on moving a Silver SFP award forward. In order to obtain a Silver award a strong cross sectoral partnership must be achieved, and relationships in some areas of sustainable food in Belfast are not presently strong.

The issues around making the food system work in Belfast are many and varied, and information from stakeholder interviews are summarised in Chapter 8. Priorities include:

1. The need to join up work on food across the City
2. Building food citizenship, and working away from treating people as consumers
3. Promoting all the benefits of local community food growing, and joined up working across the public sector to release land for food growing
4. Access to public land for community food growing
5. Re-establishing the Food Poverty Working Group and encouraging the Living Wage
6. Supporting small and medium enterprises through a variety of initiatives
7. Continuing work on community wealth building through procurement policy
8. Increasing rural/urban connections across the food system in Belfast

This report proposes an action plan for establishing a democratic structure for the Silver SFP award work which should take account of existing structures and bring the best of all sectors to the table, while minimising unnecessary structures and meetings.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages155
Publication statusUnpublished - 2023


  • Sustainable Food
  • Food Poverty
  • Food Citizenship


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