On the outer edges of Liverpool ONE, a 42 acre regeneration area of the city centre, there is a Tesco Superstore. This is unremarkable in itself - you can't go very far in Liverpool without running into one - however, if you venture just around the corner of the main entrance you'll find a set of plaques that reproduce an 18th Century map of the area. The description states that this area was once 'Mr Seel's Garden'. Drawing the contemporary viewer into a lost past, the description states: "you are standing on what was the garden, represented by an asterisk". You are not all that stands on what was the garden, however, as the Tesco itself is also directly on top of the garden site. Yet, even while you might catch yourself becoming a little nostalgic - imagining a kindly Mr Seel handing you a freshly cut cabbage - the description lets you know that "Thomas Seel was an eighteenth century merchant. He made money out of the dreadful slave trade, but used some of it to pay for Liverpool's first infirmary".
The uncanny juxtaposition of current and historic food systems, made visible by this map, has been commented on by a number of Liverpool local food activists. The vivid experience it produces, draws together multiple elements - food, maps, history, time, power, cruelty, memory, intertwined local and global communities - to paint a complex picture of the changing nature of communities and the systems that connect them together. Our pilot demonstrator project aims to engage with the productive knots and tangles woven together by 'Mr Seel's Garden' through a collaboration between a broad range of partners with a shared interest in time, food and community engagement. Working with community organisations within Liverpool's fledgling local food movement, this project will explore how engaging local communities with the changing patterns of food production could contribute to current grassroots efforts within Liverpool to raise awareness around current food issues.
To describe the specifics of the project in brief: volunteer and academic researchers will use a combination of research methodologies - oral history, archive research and site identification/documentation - to build up a multi-layered picture of the changing nature of food systems in Liverpool. The data gathered from each of these activities will be made available to wider community on a project web page, and will feed into a creative strand that will develop a locative media application for GPS enabled smartphones, as well as a print media historic local food walking tour. These outputs will help to disseminate the results of the research work, while also raising awareness of local food issues and the project partners themselves. The overall process itself will provide material to support philosophical research into the interconnections between social understandings of time and community, archaeological research into methods of engaging communities with the historical environment and research into the pragmatic and affective aspects of archive use.
In its methods and overall approach, the project contributes to the Connected Communities programme by demonstrating the possibilities of making significant research contributions to a number of arts and humanities disciplines through the development of practical, creative and theoretical responses to community identified interests and challenges. In so doing it will address the core research concerns of the Programme by utilising comparative and historical methods to explore both how communities change over time, and how the process of historical research can itself impact on community responses to current challenges.