Category Archives: PhD Blog

Gareth Roberts – CHEFS PhD Blog

A Year and A Week – Part 1

A year and a week. This is how much time has passed since I last wrote a blog post. Ouch.

When I first realised this, I was shocked and disappointed with myself. I had become that person who set out to do something, but had not achieved it. For me, this is a situation that is familiar territory. Why is this? Well, mostly because as a rule, I set out to achieve the impossible on an almost daily basis. I like to say yes to everything, to take risks, push boundaries, and I am certainly not afraid to embrace failure. Therefore, feeling as I did about this blog was an inevitability. And yet, here I am again, typey typey writey writey, on the keyboard. It’s good to be back, as some say. When will I see you again, as others say too.

My aim? To look back over this time elapsed, and bring both myself, and anyone who is interested up to date, in a manner of speaking.

Time Is Relative

As of today, Tuesday 16th April 2024*, there are 224 weeks and 1 day remaining until the official end date of my PhD studentship, which is Thursday 3rd August 2028. I was hoping to embed a fancy countdown timer into the page, but it was taking too long to find out how to do it (now that is ironic), so you will just have to take my word for this complex mathematical time-space calculation. (Found a countdown timer) 🙂

Given that 53 weeks has passed since I last wrote a blog post I can make some sort of relative judgement as to the qualities of how much time I have left – just over 4 times. 4.307 to be precise. However, I’ll be honest – that doesn’t have the desired impact on my mental state. I’m looking for something much more pressing, something tangible I can get my head around. So I’ll go with the weeks remaining countdown.

Time management (or the lack of it) has been a recurring theme over the past year. I’ve tried several different weekly work patterns – 3-6pm Mon-Wed, half day Tue & Wed, all day Thu… – all of which start out with the best intentions but then things happen to disrupt and derail. I’ve also tried, with some degree of success, joining ‘micro’ writing retreats on City campus. They work for sure, providing a fleeting glimpse of the ideal state of focused, distraction free time to write. It does, however, remind me of trying to home school my wonderful children during the pandemic, which works absolutely fine until you have to do something else instead, at which point the children do exactly the same, different, thing. I’m a mature adult for gawds sake – why do I need (and willingly consent to) another mature adult standing at the front of the room to ‘get me in the zone’. Pffft. How did it come to this??

* the date I started writing this blog post BTW.

Regather Is Working

Well, one of the reasons it has come to this, is that whilst I’m studying part time, I continue to also work for a living at Regather, which is the co-operative enterprise I set up in 2010.  The past 12 months have been super busy for Regather, we have been working at the heart of a city and region wide food system sustainability movement. Here are the highlights:

The year has not been without it’s challenges though. The slow but steady post-Covid decline in customer numbers, accelerated by price and wage inflation and cost-of-living pressures has taken it’s toll. Whilst the Regather Box scheme itself continues to thrive and remain profitable, this is not always enough to sustain the substantial (and still growing) programme of social purpose activities Regather undertakes across Sheffield. Therefore Regather has had to become more reliant on grant funding to resource these activities. Thankfully we have been successful in attracting funding, for example, from the Co-operative Foundation for our Eat Trees Sheffield project, and from the University of Sheffield for our Urban Agricultural Task Force, which is part of the SYSC.

The other huge challenge has been a period of profound uncertainty around our main premises, the Regather Works, in Sharrow. We’ve had to deal with negotiating a mid lease rent review, the very real possibility of breaking our long lease, looking for and not finding suitable premises for relocation, our owners announcing their intention to sell the property and a last minute dash to submit a major grant funding application to bring the property into community ownership. It’s been hugely stressful and time consuming, and I have had a central role in steering a course through it all. A silver lining has been the overwhelmingly positive response to a community survey we did, with over 1000 responses in 48 hours, more than half of which were statements of profound support and appreciation from the community. We are now awaiting the outcome of the Community Ownership Fund application, and making plans for a membership drive and community share offer / crowdfunding campaign.

Life Is Real

Another dominant theme throughout the year is real life, being, well, just way too real. I’ll not go into all the details. Those involved – you know who you are, and you know how the year happened. The headlines? That’s easy – parenting, weather, strikes, therapy, illness, accidents, disease and death. All unavoidable features of life, mostly outside of ones control. That’s just how it is. However, the consensus within the Roberts household is that in the case of 2023 the timing could have been definitely been more kind. Still, we rolled with the punches, and came out the other side more humble and stronger.

That said – it has made progress with the PhD studies really very challenging at times.

PhD Studies

So what progress have I made in the past year? Here’s a bullet point summary, in no particular order…

  • In Feb 2023 I submitted a Critical Thinking in Business Administration assignment. By late April I was informed I had failed the assignment, and would need to resubmit in July 2023. Boo! Fortunately by August 2023 I had resubmitted and passed the assignment. Yay!
  • In April 2023 I submitted my RF1. As well as completing the form, this also involved undertaking online ethics training and producing a development needs analysis and plan. I’m pleased to confirm the RF1 was approved without amendments in May 2023. Yay! I think a key factor in this was attending the “SERI – Demystifying the RF1” session a couple of times, and asking for (and getting) some excellent support from the Doctoral School / SERI admin teams, which was much appreciated. Thanks guys!
  • For various good, and well supported, reasons I deferred the Research Approaches and Designs module from 2023, to 2024. Watch this space…
  • During October – November 2023 I attended a number of online training sessions provided by University of East Anglia providing a range of research and professional skills training delivered in a ‘live-taught’ online format by the excellent Dr Simon Watts. I attended eight sessions in total, on academic publishing, analysing qualitative data, comparing qualitative methods, lit reviews, Nvivo software, interviewing, structuring your thesis and writing effectively. I find them enjoyable to attend, highly useful, and have  been referring back to the session recordings which can be downloaded afterwards on a regular basis.
  • Out of curiosity I attended a half day White Rose Social Sciences Doctoral Training Partnership event at the University of Sheffield. I had an enjoyable catch up with Richard White. who’s work I find really interesting, and I met some interesting early stage PhD students, but found that this programme was one too much opportunity than I could actually make the best of.
  • During July 2023 I revisited the Great Yorkshire Show. This was a really enjoyable day out (I love a good agricultural show of course!) but more importantly it gave me the perspective of time to reflect on the suitability of the Show as a focus of my research. The resounding conclusion was that for me, the Show was not going to work. Too big, too busy and too time constrained mainly, but also an institution that is hundreds of years old and steeped in culture and tradition. Fascinating, yes, but not what I’m after.
  • Interestingly, the experience of applying for, being selected and participating in the South Yorkshire Citizens Assembly was another incredibly useful opportunity to reflect on my studies, and consider the suitability of Deliberative Democracy as a focus of my research. Whilst writing the Critical Thinking assignment I did read around the topic, in particular Deliberative Policy Analysis. The experience of participating in the assembly, but also (I think more importantly) having the opportunity to meet and spend time learning from academics acting as observers at the Assembly to undertake their own primary research led me to recognise where my own particular interests did or didn’t align.
  • More recently I’ve joined a follow up workshop series called Climate ReAssemblies, exploring the use of interactive documentaries as a democratic tool for innovating citizen engagement in post-climate assemblies and climate policy more generally. I’ll share more on this as the project evolves.
  • During late Summer 2023 another interesting opportunity for a research focus began taking shape involving Sustain and Land Workers Alliance, who were leading a National Lottery Climate Action Fund stage 2 bid called Tasting a Better Future. Through Regather I had an inside track on the project, and my initial request for the programme to form the basis of PhD research had been accepted by the project steering group. However, ultimately the funding bid was not successful unfortunately, so I was back out searching again.
  • Around the same time Regather was shortlisted for the BBC Food and Farming Awards, and so began the development of a potential research focus for my studies. Being shortlisted led to being interviewed, recorded and broadcast on the BBC Radio 4 On Your Farm radio programme, which is turn led to a period of heightened media interest in Regather, particularly our work on changing food system policy and practice. Being shortlisted also led to being invited to the Awards ceremony in South Wales, where I was able to meet other finalists, which was great, but also meet the programme presenters, producers and directors involved in making the significant quantity of BBC content surrounding the Awards, and the wider topic of food and farming. These experiences and conversations led me to research the Awards in much more detail, and discovering and listening to a huge quantity of archive content stretching back to 2000 when they started. This past material, the current plans for the Awards, and what the future holds for the Awards is hugely interesting to me, and aligns very well with my research questions, and the wider research brief of my PhD studentship. As of right now, I’m pleased to say that’s where it’s at.

Still to come in Part 2

  • Return to Teaching
  • Supervision
  • Research Methods – Critical Ethnography
  • Ethics – Converis
  • Literature Review
  • Plan for the RF2

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Perfect is the Enemy of Good…

… is the saying my wife shared with me after I explained the block I was experiencing over sitting down and writing a blog post. Honestly, this was today’s daily reminder of just how awesome I know she is.

Me: I want to write a post for my PhD blog, but I’m worried what I write will not be good enough. There are actual people who might read what I write. It needs to be good!

Wife: People read your blog?

Me: I know, right?! Thing is, I’ve got a list of things that I want to write about. Then I worry about what I write being good enough, so I write nothing. Then I feel sad I’ve not written anything. I don’t want to be that person who looks back and says If only I’d written a blog or something.

Wife: Perfect is the enemy of good. (stated like I should already know this, whilst at same time smashing out reams of words on her laptop keyboard, drinking beer and being awesome.)

Me: Says nothing, just smiles, takes a big gulp of beer and leaves room to write actual, real life blog post.

Jack’s Scratch

So let’s start with easily the most significant development – my wonderful son Jack built me a key word random venn diagram generator on Scratch (the world’s largest free coding community for kids don’t ya know). Here is a screen shot, but for full effect you really should check it out: P.H.D (this is for my dad) on Scratch ( Click the green flag then use your up and down arrow keys to stop and start the generator. Don’t forget to bliss out to the ambient soundtrack and let the key words turn off your mind, relax and float downstream…

Nature of Prosperity

Huge thanks to Fergus Lyon at the Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity for inviting me to participate in their Nature of Prosperity dialogue Food Possibilities—finding food justice within planetary boundaries event on 23rd February in Manchester. The keynote by Dr Rowan Williams was an inspirational opening to the day, and Tim Jackson expertly held the space – listening, reflecting and offering provocation. For me the event was an opportunity to explore the tension between making money and valuing people, and just how quickly outrage and anger bubbles to the surface in these challenging times. I strongly recommend watching the panel discussion with Sue Pritchard (Director, Food, Farming and Countryside Commission), A/Prof Angelina Sanderson Bellamy (UWE Bristol), Guy Singh-Watson (Founder, Riverford) and Carolyn Steel (Author of Sitopia) – talk about a list of who’s who in the world of sustainable food right now!


…is a research consortium working to transform the Yorkshire food system. On 16th March FixOurFood hosted the brilliant Yorkshire Food Summit in Harrogate, which I was able to attend with more than 120 food system leaders. The event was great, and my highlights were hearing about plans to develop a Yorkshire Food Council, and networking with key people in the region, including Jan Thornton MBE, Yorkshire Food, Farming and Rural Network; Allison Kane, Deliciouslyorkshire; and Allister Nixon, Yorkshire Agricultural Society. I’m really looking forward to returning to Harrogate in July for the 164th Great Yorkshire Show.

It wasn’t long until I was returning to North Yorkshire and FixOurFood again, for the Food System Policy Interface training event led by Bob Doherty, FixOurFood and Yaad Sidhu from Defra on March 30th in York. Topics covered included a Defra structure overview, integrating a systems approach into Defra, working in the science policy interface and options of influence. Later in the day an unexpected but very exciting opportunity arose to share my PhD interests with the group and workshop a ‘rich picture’, which involved a collaborative combination of questions, discussion, writing and drawing. Feedback from the group suggested the research topic / question is sufficiently focused and addresses an important gap in knowledge, and a senior academic made my day when she just walked right up to me after the workshop and said ‘You’ll do great, because you’ve got life experience, and that’s what makes the different on a PhD.’ Yay!

Here’s a couple of pictures from the workshop.

PhD Progress

Remarkably, despite life, the universe and everything, I think it’s fair to say I’ve managed to make some good progress on the PhD since I last posted on here back in mid-January. In hindsight a key learning point has been around trusting my abilities, and importantly giving myself enough time to develop this trust, because this seems to be what really matters when the inevitable deadline crunch comes around. This is OK, because with some good time management, in theory, there can be enough time. However, this has been the other key learning point. Basically after the assignment hand in I found myself struggling to maintain momentum. In the end I put this down to a one long day a week work pattern, which was too stop start, and left me feeling on the back foot before I’d even sat at my desk. So, trial and error etc. etc. and now I’ve adopted a three short days a week work pattern, and so far so good. Fingers crossed it will stay that way. So, what about this progress??

Critical Thinking

On 20th February, as part of the Critical Thinking in Business Administration module I studied in October 2022, I successfully submitted a 5000-7000 assignment with the title:

“Philosophical underpinnings for business and management research will depend on the topic chosen”. Discuss this proposition in relation to your own research aims and objectives

Here is the summary.

Part One – Research Philosophy makes thorough use of Chapter 4 ‘Understanding research philosophy and approaches to theory development’ in ‘Research Methods for Business Students’ (Saunders, Lewis, & Thornhill, 2019) as a study guide, to explore research philosophy, assumptions, research paradigms, philosophical positions and approaches to theory development. A selection of key texts referenced in the chapter are explored further, and the Heightening your Awareness of your Research Philosophy (HARP) Reflexive Tool is used to explore the author’s views on research philosophy, providing an opportunity to build the foundations of further philosophical study and learning on the doctoral journey.

Part Two – Research Backstory sets out the main episodes to date in the iterative process of formulating what will become the proposed doctoral research programme. This process starts with the original PhD Scholarship opportunity, followed by the background and rationale for applying to study, and an initial account of the author’s research interests, values and beliefs.

Part Three – Research Themes is an attempt to synthesise the learning from Part One with the exploration in Part Two, with an initial exploration and literature review of research topics for consideration, and, if possible, reaching an initial position on the author’s research aims and objectives, assumptions and philosophical underpinnings for the proposed doctoral research programme.

The assignment certainly had a variety of limitations, and known weaknesses (see the title of this blog post for further info right?), but I felt these were more about where I’m at in the PhD journey, rather than anything fundamental. Focusing on the positives, the process allowed me to fully engage with new learning on research philosophies, to establish a strong consistent narrative connecting my professional practice pre-PhD with my emerging research interests in-PhD, and, most enjoyably, to review a huge amount of really interesting and engaging literature.

I’m awaiting formal feedback on the assignment, so unable to offer any further insights other than my own. Time is moving on, as is the PhD programme, so I’m taking the view it’s best to crack on regardless. However, I took steps to share a copy with my Director of Studies who was able to expertly weave feedback into a supervision session.

Research Approaches and Designs

During the week beginning 27th February I attended the second study block ‘Research Approaches and Designs’ (RAD). The module was led by Dr Adele Doran, and aimed to ‘assist you in developing a critical orientation to methodology and methods, which will be vital both for designing your own PhD research, and for evaluating existing research in your field.’

The range of topics was certainly stimulating, but for me, overall, the module did not land as successfully as Critical Thinking. I’m putting this down to timing – at the time of the study block I’d only just finished writing the assignment, and simply was not ready to assimilate an intense week of studying research methods. It is also fair to say module delivery faced a range of challenges due to staffing issues, strike days and hybrid working, and student attendance was impacted by clashes with existing teaching, study and work commitments amongst the cohort.

However, Adele did a sterling job of keeping the show on the road, and ensured all the material is now available on Blackboard to return to as required. Furthermore, the assignment is relevant and totally aligned with the overall PhD programme process, which means I’m fully motivated and engaged to complete it. Phew! The brief is to ‘critically review research philosophical perspectives relevant to your PhD research, justify the methodological stance and research design you will adopt, and discuss in detail the proposed methods of data collection and analysis, and the ethical implications of your research.’  Deadline is 16th May, so watch this space.


In early March I attended a supervision meeting with my Director of Studies Jen Smith Maguire and my supervisors Caroline Westwood and Mark Norman. We discussed the assignment, the study block, the upcoming RF1 submission, and progressing on the RAD assignment. The discussion was hugely useful, and I’d like to share the main recommendation, because it is gold dust…

Recognise both the challenge and opportunity of being so embedded in working towards a more sustainable food system, and ensure the PhD comprises of a discrete, manageable and deliverable element of this work.

This is now etched into my brain, but suffice to say back then I went on to miss the 20th March deadline to share a draft of the RF1 with my supervisors. Not ideal. This was actually the main tipping point on changing my working pattern, and learning about getting distracted… more on that next…

RF1 Submission

My 6 month deadline to submit the RF1 on 4th April seemed to arrive very quickly. Throughout March I was struggling with substantial work and family commitments, which combined with the stop start work pattern  I mentioned above, was not doing me any favours. However, on reflection, I think the main challenge I had was distraction. Whilst it’s great fun (and mostly useful) to attend lots of events, do lots of networking and expose oneself to lots of new ideas and thinking, there came a point when I was like a child in the proverbial sweetshop. Too many sweets to choose from, getting overexcited, then gorging on all of them, feeling somewhat ill afterwards, and having that hangover feeling of never wanting another sweet again. All this certainly happened in the run up to the RF1 deadline. However, it seems all this was more of purge than an addiction. As the deadline approached I returned to looking at what I had produced for the Critical Thinking assignment in a different light, and was able to pull out a number of different pieces of the jigsaw, introduce some key new elements, and reassemble them altogether to compose a coherent, and much more focused picture which fitted within the constraints of the RF1. The lesson? – getting distracted must/does happen, and can be good, but can be bad, so know when to regain focus and to let your attention be recaptured fully.

For the record, here are the main sections of the RF1 as submitted. All are subject to review and change.


Yorkshire Food and Farming Events in Transition: The Evolution to Net Zero

Aims & Objectives

Critically examine the role and development of food and farming events (FFE) in Yorkshire towards achieving the UK Government commitment to net zero by 2050, specifically:
1. How FFE underpin food system (un)sustainability.
2. The potential of FFE to create spaces for meaningful participation in deliberative food system policy analysis and formulation of social imaginaries.
3. How to design FFE based interventions which translate critical action research into opportunities for deliberation, policy analysis, embedded everyday practice and impactful change in consumer perception and behaviour.
4. A deeper understanding of the role and development of FFE towards net zero by 2050.

Literature Review

The food system (Hawkes & Parsons, 2019) is unsustainable and sits at the heart of multiple global challenges (Global Food Security, 2021). In the UK, our food system is a mix of global, national, and local supply chains (Doherty, Benton, Fastoso, & Gonzalez-Jimenez, 2017) which fundamentally shape our present and future life (Llanos, 2020). Systems thinking is needed, because all the elements of the food system interconnect, and are highly complex, globalised, and interdependent, and therefore shared solutions to food system problems are essential.

Rethinking food policy presents major opportunities and challenges, requiring new types of food system governance (Hawkes & Parsons, 2019). Post-Brexit, UK Government policy is still under reform (House of Commons Library, 2016), food policy is highly fragmented (Parsons, 2020), and implementation (DEFRA HM Government, 2022) of the National Food Strategy (Dimbleby, H., 2021) has been very limited (Dimbleby, Henry & Lewis, 2023). The transformation of UK food and farming (Collas & Benton, 2023; Ward, 2023) is essential to achieving net zero by 2050 (HM Government, 2021; Skidmore, 2022). There are multiple programmes of research, investment, policy and governance underway to address this challenge (So & Wren, 2022), many of which are situated in Yorkshire.

Yorkshire is home to a vibrant food and drink sector and hosts an annual calendar of hundreds of Food and Farming Events (FFE), involving thousands of businesses working together, and attracting millions of people, including domestic and international tourists.

Event sustainability is a key priority for the FFE manager (Jones, 2018), with measurement methods available (Kaiser, Kaspar, & Beech, 2014), but these have limitations (Collins & Cooper, 2017) and opportunities exist to further understand and manage the capacity of FFE to make the food system more, or less, sustainable in the future.

When considering the relationship between FFE, food consumer perceptions and behaviour, and the wider food system, there is evidence of social innovation:

Facilitating Alternative Agro-Food Networks (FAAN) (Balazs, 2009; Karner, 2010) used co-operative research to analyse how policy impacts Local Food Systems including markets, food festivals, agricultural shows, farm shops, box schemes and community supported agriculture.

HealthyGrowth investigated regional organic value chains to learn how to foster cooperation and partnership (Bartkus & Davis, 2009; HealthyGrow, 2016; Lamine & Bjornshave Noe, 2017; Ostrom, De, & Schermer, ; Schermer, 2015; Stahlbrand, 2019; Stotten, Bui, Pugliese, Schermer, & Lamine, 2017; Sumner, McMurtry, & Renglich, 2014; Von Mßnchhausen, Häring, Kvam, & Knickel, 2017).

These innovations require new analytical frameworks (Renting, Marsden, & Banks, 2003) such as civic food networks, and greater understanding of food citizenship (Balazs, 2012; Flora & Bregendahl, 2012; Harris, 2017; Lamine, Darolt, & Brandenburg, 2012; Psarikidou, 2012; Veen, Derkzen, & Wiskerke, 2012; Zagata, 2010).

Covid-19 and post-Covid 19 caused transformative shifts in consumer perceptions and behaviour (Krzywoszynska, 2022; Wagenaar & Prainsack, 2021) and development of resilient systems (Driessen, B., 2022; Driessen, Bella, 2021; Guzman & Reynolds, 2019; Guzman, Reynolds, & Sharpe, 2019; Hammans, 2022).

There is debate around sustainability, (Adloff & Neckel, 2019; Delanty, 2020; Miller, 2020), resilience, transformation, and transition (HĂślscher, Wittmayer, & Loorbach, 2018) in relation to how society responds to so-called super wicked problems (Levin, Cashore, Bernstein, & Auld, 2012) such as food system and climate change. The inherent complexity is a characteristic of living in the age of the network society (Castells, 1997; Castells, 2000a; Castells, 2000b; Castells, 2010).

Deliberative Policy Analysis (DPA) (Hajer & Wagenaar, 2003) asks the question ‘what kind of policy analysis might be relevant to understanding governance in the emerging network society?’ Interesting examples of DPA are water catchment area governance (Foster, Ison, Blackmore, & Collins, 2019) and community forestry groups in India and Nepal (Anderson, 2006), which are ecosystems, and share similar characteristics to bioregions, or food sheds, which are key food systems concepts.

Critical Sustainability (CS) (Delanty, 2020) applies critical theory as a critique of unsustainability, arguing not to reject sustainability as an ideology of late capitalism, but to reconstruct it as a critical concept, in order that unsustainability can take on a wider significance.

These new discourses pose challenges for democracy and present a crisis of public policy, requiring: a shift from positivist policy analysis to critical positivist policy analysis (Fischer, F. & Forester, 1993; Fischer, Frank & Gottweis, 2012; Hajer & Wagenaar, 2003); a politics of making and unmaking sustainable futures (Knappe, Holfelder, David LĂśw Beer, & Nanz, 2019); different futures of sustainability (Adloff & Neckel, 2019); a need to rethink democracy in time of crisis (Fladvad, 2021; Kelz, 2019); and a need to fundamentally shift theoretical frameworks for understanding social imaginaries (Adams, Blokker, Doyle, Krummel, & Smith, 2015; Miller, 2020).

Literature Review / Concepts and Theories – Initial phase of desk research, active networking and field visits to examine the social, political and environmental dimensions of the food and farming system in Yorkshire, and to contextualise the historic role and development of FFE within this system. High-level analysis of Yorkshire FFE sector (map, calendar, networks, policy, governance). Initial definition and categorisation of FFE activity. Develop framework to observe and record the experiential, material, and communicative dimensions of FFE.

Research Question – Explore examples of social innovation within FFE, underpinned by critical action research philosophy / practice (informed by Deliberative Policy Analysis and Critical Sustainability), focusing on FFE enterprise and management practices; the experiential, material and communicative dimensions of FFE; the capacity of FFE to connect food producers with food consumers; and FFE as instruments of food system change.

Sampling – Identify a community of innovative FFE practice for critical action research. Aim is a multi-level (hyper-local to regional) cross/intersection of FFE activity situated in Yorkshire.

Data Collection / Data Analysis – Devise, practice, observe and record FFE based interventions which enable instances within FFE to operate as temporary public(s)/space(s) for:
• Constructing, experiencing, and sharing (un)sustainability ‘imaginaries’
• Individual and collective deliberation, policy analysis, action and agency
• Transformative change around food, nature and society.

Writing Up – Reflect on findings and seek to contribute knowledge to the future role and development of FFE in transitioning to net zero by 2050.

Next Steps

Congratulations and thank you if you’ve read this far! Next on the agenda is completing the RAD assignment, and awaiting feedback / authorisation of the RF1.

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It’s Good To Be Back

Hello and welcome! It’s 2023! It’s good to be back!

Within a few hours of hitting the ‘publish’ button on the quick ‘I’m on Twitter’ post I did on Dec 14th 2022 I was shivering under a blanket on the sofa feeling very, very sorry for myself. Little did I know then that I was coming down with the flu – yes, proper flu 🙁 In typical rollercoaster fashion this would take me a full month to properly recover. In fact we all got at Chez Roberts, but thankfully those who’d had their jabs were not quite so ill as I was. Annoyingly, for some reason that still escapes me, 2022 was the first winter in years I’d not popped to Boots to get myself jabbed. Mercifully we live and learn.

Whilst being ill and convalescing I got a fair amount of reading done, which was both satisfying and enjoyable. In that time I also feel like I got to grips with RefWorks too, which I’m told by others more experienced than I, is an essential tool in the PhD kit. Yay, good for me!

Feeling much better, today I resolved to not work from home, but instead get on my bike, on to campus, and behind a desk in the Charles Street building. Room 12.1.16 is rapidly becoming one of my fav places to work. It’s quiet, but not silent – the big windows overlook Arundal Gate, so there is a constant buzz of people, traffic and weather which I find rather pleasant. The chairs are proper office chairs, the desks are clean and clear, the computer works (mostly), it’s warm and distraction free – basically everything I don’t have when working from home. Nice! So, aside from a bit of catching up on unread emails, most of the day (11AM – 6PM) was at my disposal.

My focus has been getting to grips with my first assessment, deadline 20th February. The task, part of the Critical Thinking in Business Administration module I studied in October 2022, is a 5000-7000 assignment with the title:

“Philosophical underpinnings for business and management research will depend on the topic chosen”. Discuss this proposition in relation to your own research aims and objectives

The assessment criteria includes showing awareness of philosophical positions, understanding of epistemological and ontological issues, alternative ways of engaging with your research topic and making epistemological/ontological choices and much more… Suffice to say, right now, I’m feeling overwhelmed and intimidated. It has been a lllloooonnnggg time since I last wrote a structured essay of this length, and (frankly) I’ve not left myself a huge amount of time to get it done. Hey ho.

Today I’ve mostly been mining a fantastic online journal I discovered recently called the Journal of Deliberative Democracy – focusing on articles which explore the epistemology of democracy. It was a ‘postmodernism’ keyword search which returned what I think were the richest results. Interestingly, during the module we did the HARP Heightening your Awareness of your Research Philosophy reflexive tool designed by Bristow and Saunders, and postmodernism was at the top.

Also as an undergraduate, my by far favourite module was a 3rd year ‘Theories of Postmodernism’ romp through cities, culture, architecture and music. Mmmm, maybe postmodernism is something I will explore in more detail for the assignment….

Rightio – got to go. It’s time for tea back at the ranch. Sausages, potato wedges and baked beans coming right up. Bye for now!

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Yay! I’m on Twitter Gareth Roberts (@FoodEventsPhD) / Twitter – follows and retweets always welcome.

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Welcome back 🙂

I decided the title ‘Ketchup’ for my second blog post whilst lying in bed this morning, trying to eeek out the last bit of duvet warmth before stepping into the chill of our money-saving-less-than-usually-centrally-heated house. I’d already decided this post would be a catch-up post – bringing me, and you (the reader) up to date on the PhD journey thus far.

Unexpectedly my brain pinged up a scene from Pulp Fiction, where Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman) shares a joke with Vincent Vega (John Travolta). The joke is as follows: “One day there were three tomatoes walking down the street, a mama tomato, a daddy tomato and a baby tomato. Baby tomato is walking too slowly, so the daddy tomato goes back, steps on him and says ‘ketchup!’ ” The scene is better than the joke, so you can watch it here if you fancy. I’m going to attribute the brain ping (or is it brain fart nowadays? lol) to a weak triangulation of catching up, something food related, and something slightly left field to engage, and who knows, distract even… Perfect for a second blog post, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Finding the original email I received in April 2022 from the CHEFS email list took a bit of time, making me realise just how quickly and easily nuggets of digital gold are found, lost and found again. The moment I opened the email in April I know this was an opportunity I needed to act upon. It read:

Food events, ‘sustainability imaginaries’ and shaping consumer perceptions and behaviour

This project aims to improve the sustainability of regional food systems through the platform of food events (e.g. food festivals, farmers markets, agricultural shows), focusing on Yorkshire/Northern England. It explores the construction of food sustainability ‘imaginaries’ (Taylor 2004): normative conventions and expectations as to what constitutes sustainable food systems, and how people imagine everyday life (e.g., eating, purchasing, choosing, growing), and their roles, identities and relations to others in a sustainable food system. Building on previous examinations of food events as drivers of sustainability (Lin & Bestor 2020; Organ et al 2015; Star, Rolfe & Brown 2020; Williams et al 2015), the research will:

(1) generate a comprehensive account of how ‘food sustainability imaginaries’ are constructed through a food event’s experiential, material and communicative dimensions;
(2) devise and evaluate a food event-based intervention through which to enhance consumers’ practices and behaviours in relation to the environmental, socio-cultural and economic sustainability of food.

By May 2022 I had written a research proposal, secured two trusted academic peers (thank you Peter, thank you Jane) and got my application in by the deadline – phew! Receiving the interview invite was a GOOD THING, immediately followed by a visit to the pub to celebrate, and getting down to preparing my short presentation for the interview, which took place on 21st June 2022. The BIG NEWS of an unconditional offer arrived on 1st July, followed by another visit to the pub of course! Fast forward through the summer to October 2022 when ‘My PhD Journey’ embarked proper.

The full title of my post is ‘Graduate Teaching Assistant PhD Scholarship’, which I am undertaking on a part-time basis over 6-7 years. So, what does this mean? Broadly speaking it means I receive a scholarship payment to complete the PhD and to teach. The bureaucracy of enrolment was inevitable, but pretty painless – and various new PGR inductions into the Sheffield Hallam Doctoral School did exactly what they needed to do in terms of getting across all the key information in a timely manner. Thanks to the great support teams 🙂 whether it was filling in the correct forms, activating IT accounts, applying for SHU cards or getting access to the right rooms, everything that was needed has happened. I’ve also accessed a couple of really useful webinars delivered by the amazing Library Services.

In terms of teaching, the Doctoral School offered a ‘Teaching Skills for Doctoral Students’ course, for which I was eligible. However after speaking with the course leader and taking into consideration my previous teaching qualifications and 10 years + teaching experience (most of which has been here at SHU) I was able to decide that I didn’t need to attend the TSDS course. I felt well supported to make the right decision. Another positive in relation to teaching is that there is a block of time at the start and end of the PhD where I am not required to do any teaching. It’s not allowed in fact! This feature has created a very useful period of time for everything else to happen and to settle in, including speaking with my Subject Team Leader about what teaching I will be doing. More on teaching to come…

The first study block ‘Critical Thinking in Business Administration’ ran from 17th – 21st October covering a wide range of topics, including theories of truth and management research, ethics, ontology, epistemology, research philosophies and much more. The module was expertly co-delivered by Dr Richard Breese and Dr Fariba Darabi, with a great range of activities and guest lecturers, plus a welcome message by Professor Conor Moss, Dean of College Business, Technology and Engineering. The module assignment is a 5-7000 word essay due in February 2023, focusing on a critical exploration of the research aims and objectives I have developed. More on this assignment to come…

I reached a key milestone on 15th November with my first proper PhD supervision meeting with my Director of Studies Professor Jennifer Smith Maguire. The brief ahead of the session was to “revisit your proposal and try to pick out what’s likely to form part of your focus going forward”. This involved following up a couple of scribbled notes I made one afternoon during a group activity in the earlier study block. The keywords were ‘deliberative democracy’, and something about them resonated with me. So it was, towards the end of October, that  I embarked on what I now see as my first proper rounds of structured literature searches and reading. At the supervision session I shared my thinking with Jen, and what emerged was a scribbled venn diagram, and the sentence ‘food events as spaces for deliberation in support of values based food systems’. More on how this develops to come…

A key challenge I’ve encountered has been finding the time I want to dedicate to my PhD studies. My aim currently is a day a week. I’ve managed this most weeks so far, but not all weeks, and each day I have found has been disrupted in various ways by my work, by family matters and life in general, but on a positive note this disruption is happening less each week, which is good I think. I’m learning that I actually prefer having a few things on the go at any one time, and that it’s more about finding the right balance, rather than aiming for exclusivity of my time and attention on just one thing. We’ll see how I get on with that!

Finally, a quick note to self – as well as keeping this blog, I have a pen and paper notebook especially for the PhD. Like a first day at a new school, it felt right, and I’m already glad I did it. A quick flick through the pages allows me to reflect on what has already happened, and where I might need to go next. Where is next? A supervision session with Jen next week to share my progress on identifying literature topics. More on the next supervision session goes to come…

Thanks for reading, until next time…


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A Journey of a Thousand Miles…

…begins with one step. Or at least the saying goes.

My PhD journey at Sheffield Hallam University has officially begun, but to be fair it started ages ago, and will continue well after the ‘official’ end too – until death do us part right? 🙂

My intention is to share my PhD journey here on the CHEFS Blog, and avoid that horrid feeling (which I’ve encountered too many times before) of “why didn’t I start a writing blog at the beginning of this project”. Another intention is to be kind to myself on this journey, because whilst there is plenty I don’t know I don’t know, there is certainly one thing I do know I know – which is that is this journey will be long – like LLLLLLLLLLOOOOOOOOOONNNNNNNNGGGGGGGG.

Until next time then.

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by | December 2, 2022 · 5:10 pm

Gareth Roberts’ PhD Blog

Gareth Roberts started his PhD at Sheffield Hallam University in October 2022, working on the topic ‘Food events, ‘sustainability imaginaries’ and shaping consumer perceptions and behaviour.’ Gareth will be blogging about the PhD journey–watch this space!

A bit about Gareth:

Gareth is no stranger to working at Sheffield Hallam University. Once upon a time, he pushed a tea trolley around the Stoddart building! Between 2002-04 he completed a Post Compulsory Education and Training PGCE and from 2005-15 he taught in the Events Management team. Gareth is passionate about cooperation, and has worked collaboratively with people from all walks of life for over 25 years. His various experiences as an arts administrator, event manager, lecturer and serial social entrepreneur bring useful skills and resilience to the Sheffield cooperative economy. Gareth is a founder member and co-director of Regather, and established ShefFood – Sheffield’s Food Partnership. Since 2015 he has led strategic developments around Community Economic Development and Sustainable Food Systems, enabling innovative economic and social change in Sheffield. His mission is a food system where money is retained in the local economy, land is more productive, food is better quality, health is improved, and people have involvement in changing the food system for the better.


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