This is a research project exploring the place-making, community-building and post-pandemic recovery dynamics around ethnic food shops in the British high street. The project originated as an idea in 2020 among a team of researchers from Kingston University London and currently has partners among community groups, local authorities and other researchers. Currently, our investigation follows three intersecting dimensions.
Dimensions of the Project
What is the role of ethnic food shops in making the difference? Why do some urban areas invite outsiders with their difference, illustrated and epitomised by the ethnic food shop, while others scare them?
These are some of the questions we explore through the prism of the ethnic food shop as an indispensable physical-spatial element of the urban landscape and as an active participant in the urban place-making dynamics.
Ethnic food shops are often the centre of their respective ethnic communities and, especially in the case of newly-arrived migrants, the first point of contact with the local urban surroundings. They become embedded in their local communities and reach out to them or support them in numerous tangible and intangible ways. Positioning an ethnic culinary culture in a visible way, ethnic food shops project and stabilise cultural identities around food and the act of eating together, but they also mould cultural identities by adopting new practices and products.
How these social processes of community building and inclusion work and how the cultural practices of food and culinary identities are deployed are questions explored in this dimension of the project.
Beyond ethnic difference and migration, ethnic food shops are essential businesses in the British high street and their adaptation and survival is essential to post-pandemic recovery and the economic capacity of an urban region.
Working in close relationships with their local communities, ethnic food shops have played an active role in responding to the pandemic and its emergencies: providing food aid to marginalised people, responding to supply chain disruptions and pandemic-induced demand for specific products, navigating the changes in the business landscape ushered by the pandemic (increase in delivery services, the emergence of virtual kitchens, the shortage of personnel, the shifting public health requirements).
How have business responded and adapted to the pandemic and what is their role in post-pandemic recovery is the object of investigation in this dimension of the project.