These days, it seems something new is always rising up, but austerity grinds on regardless. In the recession-hit previous decade, many new ideas for protest, frugal living and sharing activities blossomed. Most of these pioneering schemes disappeared, partly because internet phenomena like Facebook and Airbnb scooped up the urge to share and monetised it for profit. But technology can’t replace real social activity.

Now there’s a resurgence of sharing in the ‘gift economy’. The co-operative movement is building its own ‘platform’ co-ops. Think Uber with workers’ rights. The idea of a ‘commons’ is back, with a recent UK Commons Assembly at Tate Modern. New experimental organisations include the Super Kitchens network, founded by unemployed single mum Marsha Smith, which serves over 1,000 meals a week across the Midlands.

Sheffield is also leading the way. A loose network of organisations has evolved, including Foodhall, the Real Junk Food Project, and food suppliers, especially small and co-operative ones like Regather, Beanies, Barra Organics, New Roots, the bio-dynamic garden at High Riggs, and Sheffield Organic Growers. They have hundreds of people all co-operating to take on the food supply chain in the city.

Isaac, a volunteer with Foodhall, points out that these mutual organisations may be hard to scale up to national level, but by working together in a loose, decentralised network, it’s very resilient because there’s no single point of failure. Isaac is clear that Foodhall’s main aim is to bring people together, and not as consumers. That’s why it operates on an ‘open contribution’ basis. There’s an exciting energy about the project. Pop in for lunch on Thursdays and Fridays, 10am-3pm at Eyre Street.

Everyone needs to feel assured that they have a food supply, but there’s something else really good which happens when we eat communally. This means far more than eating at restaurants, where customers don’t often talk or share a table with strangers. Foodhall is different. They’re not just feeding people – they’re building community. Sure, you may be friends with a few local shopkeepers and supermarket cashiers, but you probably don’t eat together, share cultivation of food or chat over a kitchen stove. These are the kind of things that build relationships.

There’s also a crucial difference from food banks, which now provide for hundreds of thousands, possibly millions of people in the UK. Such charity services, essential in times of emergency, are rapidly becoming the new normal, but food banks aren’t meant to be social centres and there can be stigma attached. Food banks are co-operating well with this growing network of sharing economy projects, but these new food organisations are fundamentally different and open to everyone.

The National Food Service Symposium will be a high-quality part of this year’s Festival of the Mind (20-30 September). It aims to explore the size and shape of the new food sharing network and to launch the concept of a National Food Service. You’re welcome to join in. Everyone is.

foodhallproject.org
festivalofthemind.group.shef.ac.uk

DIVERSITY FEST
Sun 30 Sept | 1-9pm | Hagglers Corner | Free
Sheffield’s festival of dazzling diversity, free and all welcome. This year it looks set to be larger than ever, with dozens of performances lined up. Also check out Diversity Fest Radio Hour on air fortnightly on Tuesdays on Sheffield Live! 93.2FM. diversityfest.wordpress.com

CO-OPERATIVE SOCIAL EVENT
Fri 14 Sept | 6pm | Gardener’s Rest | Free
An informal evening for people who work, volunteer or invest in co-operatives, or anyone who’s interested in a chat with people involved in Sheffield’s many co-ops. The Gardener’s Rest is a great pub, well worth the short walk from the city centre, and is itself co-operatively owned. principle5.coop

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