Understanding and addressing food insecurity in the council of Westminster: a community-based system dynamics approach


Supervisor: Paraskevi Seferidi

Non-accademic partner: Westminster City Hall

Studentship start date: October 2022

Application deadline: Monday 28th February 2022

Application details: LISS DTP PhD Studentship in understanding and addressing food insecurity | Faculty of Medicine | Imperial College London

Food insecurity has been increasing in the UK over the last few years, with a further dramatic rise during the COVID-19 pandemic and associated social and economic crisis. Between August 2020 and January 2021, over 9% of all UK households have experienced food insecurity. At the same time, food bank use has also increased, with the Trussell Trust reporting 2.5 million food parcels distributed to people in need in the UK in 2020/21. However, food bank use is only a temporary solution to a crisis, and investments in social and welfare policy are essential to find effective and longer-term solutions. Church Street in Westminster is a diverse community in the heart of London, which records the highest levels of deprivation in the area. It also ranks within the lowest quintile of London’s well-being score, which measures health and economic security among others. The pandemic has greatly affected poor communities, and there has been an almost 45% increase in the number of food parcels distributed in Westminster during the COVID-19 pandemic. Lean fiscal environments are likely to be sustained in the coming years, and there is an urgent need for measures to protect vulnerable communities. However, there is no specific action plan in place to tackle the increasing problem of food insecurity in the area. In this project, the student will work in collaboration with Westminster City Council and engage with local stakeholders in the Church Street area, including individuals at risk of food insecurity, practitioners, service providers, third sector groups, and other community organisations, to understand food insecurity at a local level and recommend strategies to effectively address it. The objectives of this project are: 1. To co-create a qualitative map of food insecurity drivers with community members. 2. To develop a so-called ‘system dynamics model’ that quantifies changes in food insecurity and examines their impact on diets. 3. To co-design strategies that improve food security at a local level and simulate their impact using the system dynamics model. Stakeholder participation will be conducted using ‘community-based system dynamics’, an approach that enables community participation in model building and has been extensively used to engage stakeholders to identify underlying systems of complex problems. Through stakeholder workshops, a qualitative map of food insecurity drivers will be co-developed. The qualitative map will be transformed into a system dynamics model that would simulate changes in food insecurity at a local level, using local data provided by the council or publicly available national data on demographic and socioeconomic characteristics, nutrition, and food insecurity. The model will then be used to estimate the impact of strategies that improve food insecurity, co-developed with the local community and stakeholders from Westminster Council, to inform a food insecurity action plan in the area.