Written by Jennifer Davies.
I (along with so many others) had a rocky start to the first year of my PhD but, for me, the end of the year was much smoother. After 12 months of being limited to virtual gatherings, it was great to finally meet and spend time with the Waitrose CTP cohorts in person!
We were treated to a night at The Grange Hotel in Grange-over-Sands, and many of us were blown away by the generous hotel rooms and delicious food (including the homemade shortbread provided to us on arrival). We were met at the hotel by glorious sunshine and spent the afternoon sat outside in the beautiful gardens catching up with each other and, in my case, getting to know the other students and learning about their work.
After dinner, the first of our two organised talks was led by Bill Davies, Lancaster University. Bill got us thinking about the concept of Food Security. How do we feed more people using less water and fewer resources in a changing climate? But food security is not just about producing more food, we also need to think about what people consume and how this can impact people’s health and the environment. Food systems are made up of complex interactions between the environment and multiple people, companies, and processes so it can be very hard to identify what is a healthy and sustainable diet for people and the planet. Even slight changes can have far-reaching unintended social, environmental, and economic consequences. We all hope that our research can play a small part in helping the world secure the future of our food.
On the second morning, we utilised the benefits of video teleconferencing to virtually meet Veryan Bliss, Technical Director, from Suncrop Produce Ltd. for our second discussion topic. Veryan is involved in every aspect of the Suncrop business from selecting and developing growers through to business planning and future proofing the Suncrop business. In her talk, Veryan explained some of the many impacts that COVID-19 and Brexit have had on the Fresh Produce Production and Supply industry. Again, the interconnected nature of the supply chain meant that the impacts were felt far and wide, from soaring transport costs and delays to widespread shortages in trained personnel. As part of this we also looked at the challenges of meeting the price and quality demands of retail contracts and how the industry is facing difficulties in bringing new and enthusiastic people on board. How would you incentivise people to start a career in the fresh produce industry?
The afternoon was spent together as a team going for a walk around Hampsfell and for a boat cruise on nearby Lake Windermere. Thankfully the weather was again on our side and we could continue the teambuilding in the sunshine. Our Hampsfell walk started out with a steep trek up through woodland which then opened out to areas of grassland and limestone pavement at the summit. Our lunchtime “dining room” was at the Hampsfell Hospice, a 19th Century shelter stone shelter built by the vicar of Cartmel for travellers, looking out over the beautiful Lakeland Fells and Morecambe Bay. It was also at the summit where we had chance for a group photo opportunity (as featured) and where Carly Stevens, Lancaster University (academic director of the Waitrose CTP) led a discussion about her current research on Limestone pavements. Carly explained the formation and differences between clints (the flat limestone blocks) and grikes (the channels between the limestone blocks) and how these sites could be managed to promote biodiversity and preserve this distinctive landscape. It was a quick walk back down the hill to make it to Lake Windermere in time for our cruise. From Lakeside to Bowness-on-Windermere we had a relaxing trip on the boat taking in the views of the Lake District and the activity on the lake. There was even time to grab an ice-cream before we had to get the boat back and return home.
For me, this event was a reminder that a PhD is not just about the knowledge and science but also about the people we meet and the discussions we have in the corridors, break rooms or even sat outside in a hotel garden with a drink and some shortbread.
Thank you to Bill and Veryan for your interesting and thought-provoking talks and a huge thank you to Amanda Weston (Waitrose CTP Administrator) and Carly for organising the event (and the perfect weather). Good luck to those that are at the end of their PhD journey and I hope to see everyone again soon.