Case study: Middlesborough Town Meal
Middlesbrough ‘Town Meal’ is an annual celebration of local food and growing, organised by Middlesbrough Environment City together with a range of public and private businesses, and community organisations. It’s part of an annual programme of engagement in growing and food-related activities that also include regular supported gardening sessions in schools and community centres, horticulture and cookery training, and more recently, specific events such as the ‘Local Food for Local Business’ food procurement seminar.
It is free to visit the Town Meal, and to take part in all the activities, which makes it very accessible to all the residents of the town. This year, its 8th, the Town Meal was held at Centre Square in the town centre on 12th September, and on a rainy and windy day, still attracted approximately 6,000 local people!
The central part of the Town Meal is the meal itself. This is prepared from donated produce, which is collected from allotment keepers and community growers (at schools, community centres and gardens) in the week preceding the meal. For many community growers, it is their opportunity to showcase the food they have grown throughout the year. School children save their favourite cabbages for the Meal and growers’ prizewinning leeks have been amongst the donations!
The school meals service, together with volunteers, prepare the meal in a school kitchen and serve it on the day to 2,000 people, who share the food free of charge around cafe tables and chairs or on deck chairs enjoying the music! Growers are really proud to know that their contributions are so welcomed and love seeing the meal shared by others in the wider community.
Also included at the Town Meal are vegetable competitions for growers, food market stalls for local producers, cookery demonstrations representing all of Middlesbrough’s different cultures, farming and agriculture demonstrations and entertainment, such as a stage showcasing local talent, street performers, Punch and Judy, body zorb football competitions and a boxing ring.
This year’s Meal also saw the launch of the Food Action Plan. Produced by Middlesbrough’s Food Partnership, the plan outlines six themed sets of activity to improve Middlesbrough into ‘a place where local people can eat good quality, healthy food that is easy to buy, offered value for money and is locally sourced wherever possible.’ It was launched by Middlesbrough’s Mayor, Dave Budd, and visitors were encouraged to sign a Food Pledge by actors dressed as a banana, an apple and a strawberry!
Middlesbrough is a big town with a large proportion of residents living in areas of high deprivation and suffering from diet-related health problems. Many people choose between food and heating on a daily basis; accessing fresh local food can be difficult in places. The Town Meal is hugely popular and loved by all residents and demonstrates what can be achieved on a small budget where people with a shared ambition of good local food work together to share ideas and enthusiasm.
“We come every year without fail to support the meal. Today I’m with my twin sister, my daughter, niece and some of my grandchildren. We have a proper family outing here. They food is great, the atmosphere is even better, it’s a great day out.” Valerie, Easterside
“Brilliant to find so many local growers and food suppliers there in the centre of town, mixed up with creativity, fun and free food! Great atmosphere, loved it!!” Carol, Acklam
“I returned from Dubai with my husband and small children. I walked into the Town Meal and remembered all of the good things about the spirit of the people in my home town. The atmosphere was warm, the food was wonderful and my kids really enjoyed the activities that were put on. A lovely warm welcome back home. Thank you Town Meal Middlesbrough!” Ann-Louise, Linthorpe