Schools as Sites for Integrated Community Food Action

   Faculty of Social Sciences

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  Prof Beth Perry, Dr Joanne Thompson  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project


The University of Sheffield is internationally known for dynamic, interdisciplinary research at the cutting-edge of societal and environmental change. The Institute for Sustainable Food finds dynamic solutions to the challenges of food security and sustainability. The Urban Institute and Department of Urban Studies and Planning are world-known for research and scholarship in more just and sustainable urban futures. The Faculty of Medicine places health within its social context, renowned for its innovative work on social accountability in medicine and the social determinants of health. Together, our world-leading research draws on the fields of environmental and social sciences, public health and medicine.

About the project

This PhD studentship will investigate the potential of schools as sites for integrated community food action. Existing research has focussed on the quality and nutrition of food provided within school or the role of schools in emergency food provision, particularly during and since COVID-19 and the current cost of living crisis. There have also been a range of studies engaging with school gardening initiatives. However, such work remains disconnected from wider interdisciplinary scholarship on sustainable food systems and the range of interventions required to develop integrated community food action. Studies have tended to prioritise in-school food provision and the impacts on children, over the wider sustainable food environment that can be fostered by schools in the community.

This PhD will work with a local school in Arbourthorne, Sheffield to understand its own efforts to develop community food interventions through an initiative called An Even Better Arbourthorne. You will be encouraged to locate this work in the context of interdisciplinary scholarship on food systems and school-based food policy and practice, for instance, drawing on ideas around schools as regional place-based ‘open systems’, schools as a route for community self-organising for more just food systems, or the role of schools in the social determination of health through food-based interventions.

You will have the chance to co-design the study with the school and the supervisory team, drawing on your interests and expertise, to align with the broad aim of developing a framework for schools as sites for integrated community food action. The following questions provide a starting point: what role can a primary school play in relation to food security, waste reduction and improving healthy and sustainable diets and environments at different points in the food system? What impact do initiatives have – for the individuals (physical, mental health and wellbeing) and the environment - and how would we evaluate this? What are the public policy implications of school-based food interventions, for instance, for education policy, food policy or health policy at national and local levels?

You will be supported to make a critical contribution to interdisciplinary inquiry across multiple domains of study, through expert supervision, training and peer-to-peer learning. We expect the PhD to enable insight into localised dynamics and the spatiality of food systems through addressing the global challenge of food security in the face of climate change and environmental threats. Schools have the potential to contribute to increasing local food security, particularly in areas which have become known as ‘food deserts’, through growing initiatives and redistributing food waste. The focus on schools offers a potentially innovative approach to how we grow, produce and consume food, encouraging joined up thinking on health and sustainability. At the same time, the specific collaboration between social science and public heath nutrition offers the potential to understand and map individual and community level impacts, in terms of understanding the role of schools in the promotion of healthy and sustainable diets, improved equity in resource distribution and less wasteful consumption practices.

You will have the opportunity to make a real world contribution alongside academic study. This studentship offers the dual benefits of a vibrant interdisciplinary research community, and an embedded placement within Arbourthorne Community Primary School - working alongside staff and community volunteers to learn by doing. An additional objective of the funding is to provide practical guidelines for how schools can deliver and evaluate integrated community food action, including action on the overall school’s food system, food justice (waste/poverty) and improving the social determinants of health. You will have the opportunity to be creative and imaginative, and develop a comparative element of the research if this is desirable and feasible.

Supervisory team

You will be supervised by Professor Beth Perry, Director of the Urban Institute/Urban Studies and Planning, Dr Joanne Thompson, Director of One University, Medical School and the headteacher of Arbourthorne Community Primary School, Vanessa Langley. You will also benefit from the support of an extended Supervisory Support Team including Dr Megan Blake, Department of Geography, and Dr Sam Caton, School of Health and Related Research.

Students within our interdisciplinary institutes are valued and active members of our community, contributing to our aims and helping to effect real change. You will be part of a wider multidisciplinary network of PhD students and will have the chance to influence and lead Institute activity, seminars and events, and meet leaders in the field.


Applicants are expected to have a strong first degree (2.1 or a first class honours) in an area relevant to this studentship, including social science experience. Candidates applying with a Masters degree must have obtained at least a Merit (or equivalent). 

Please be aware that regular attendance in Sheffield is a prerequisite of this PhD studentship, for training and supervision purposes, as well as to participate in and plan food-related interventions at the school. 

Application process

Applications should be made through the University of Sheffield Postgraduate Online Application Form. Applications should be submitted by 9am GMT on 23rd May 2023.

As part of the application, you should upload the following additional information:

1.  A one-page personal statement explaining how your skills, experiences, interests and career plans make you a suitable candidate for the studentship

2.  A 500 word statement explaining why you think this research is important and how you would approach it

3.  A two-page CV

Architecture, Building & Planning (3) Education (11) Environmental Sciences (13) Geography (17) Medicine (26)

Funding Notes

Fully funded 3.5 year studentship covering UK (Home tuition) fees and a stipend at the basic UKRI (£17,669 per annum for 2022) rate . A research and training support grant of up to £3,000 per annum to cover research expenses and conference attendance.


Supporting Resources
An Even Better Arbourthorne – video of Phase 1 (
Phase 1 Learning report ‘Schools as community infrastructure’-

Where will I study?

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