“GOOD FOOD IS FAR MORE THAN JUST CALORIES. IT’S ABOUT LOVE AND CONNECTION AND A SENSE OF PLACE”
Images: Sim Canetty-Clarke, John Holdship, RED Agency
Shane Holland and Claire Pritchard have both been trustees of Borough Market for several years, volunteering their time to help lead the charitable trust that runs the Market. At the start of 2024, Shane took over as chair of the board, with Claire stepping up into the vice chair’s role.
You’ve both devoted your lives to working in food. What are the roots of your interest?
Shane: I grew up in a food and farming country, on the clifftops of Cornwall. We weren’t farmers, but many of the people we knew were. We were surrounded by good food. We went fishing, we went crabbing, we grew vegetables – that’s just what you did. It was only when I moved to London that I suddenly realised I’d been eating amazing food, because it was only then that I discovered what bad food was! Good food is far more than just calories. It’s about love and connection and a sense of place. Throughout my career in food, I’ve always aspired to that sense of connection and meaning. It’s my belief that everyone should have access to good food – the kind of food that makes us smile.
Claire: I grew up in the New Forest, but my parents were from Southampton, and they both grew up in post-war prefabs with very little money and not very good food. When they moved, my dad got himself two allotments and turned our garden into a soft fruit production. My mum taught herself to cook really well. Everything was made from scratch in our house – everything, even the custard cremes! We always ate round the table – seven of us, sometimes nine of us, every night, mostly well behaved, sometimes a bit unruly and passionate. I always saw food as something that brings joy and happiness. The reason I did my degrees in food and hospitality was that I wanted to work in places that bring that kind of pleasure.
What do you do for a living and how does it inform your approach at Borough Market?
Shane: I do a number of things, but all very much interlinked. I head up the Slow Food movement in the UK. I also sit on its international board for advocacy, thinking about our food systems within the UK context but also in a global context. How can we have better food systems that work for people rather than against people? How can we tackle issues around things like land sovereignty and climate change? I have the great privilege of guest lecturing at a number of universities. I also support independent businesses on food sourcing. Everything I do, including being a trustee here, relates to social justice and food access. Why can’t we all have good food? Why can’t we have local food systems? Why can’t we have short supply systems?
Claire: My day job is running a development agency in Greenwich, and food is a big part of our work. We work with about 200 food businesses on things like sourcing, sustainability and waste reduction. We also provide adult learning courses, cooking courses and cookery clubs, and we run a couple of markets. In addition to that, I’m the advisor to the Mayor of London on food policy, a role I’ve had for 15 years under three different mayors. Like Shane, I believe that if there was greater equity in the food system, we could all afford to have high-quality, sustainable, healthy food that’s good for the planet, for people, for our environment. We’re both looking at similar things, but Shane has that national and global perspective, while I mainly work within the smaller systems of a local borough.
What does being a trustee of the Market involve and why do you volunteer to do it?
Shane: Why do I do it? There’s a really easy answer: because it matters. Borough matters. If we want these things that we value in our communities, someone has to fill this role, and I’m happy to take that responsibility. We’re not involved in day-to-day operations – that’s down to the CEO and the staff – but we help steer the ship alongside the CEO. Every trustee’s job is to improve the organisation. If we’re doing that job properly, every time you come to the Market it should feel just a bit better than the last time you were here. But you shouldn’t necessarily be able to see why that’s happened. You should just sense it in the air. If that’s happening, we’ve done our job well.
Claire: What I’ve really enjoyed over the past few years has been the focus on developing the Market’s first-ever Food Policy, which Shane and I led on. I’ve been delighted by how that policy has evolved, what it’s saying and what it’s going to do for the Market in the years to come – we’re really proud of it. Things like that take a lot of work, but we knew that would be the case when we joined. Being a trustee here is quite an involved job, certainly more so than most trustee roles. The reason it’s so complex is that it’s a small organisation with a huge impact. There are so many stakeholders – the businesses, the staff, our neighbours, but then all the other people who’ve got a view of it, including the millions of people who visit each year.
So, where is the Market currently headed?
Claire: I feel that our 2030 Strategy really sets a pathway. It sets out an approach, a belief system. It’s about how we make sure we’re responsive to our local community, responsive to London. It’s about how we go about being a sustainable market, an accessible market, a diverse market, a good employer, an incubator of really good businesses. We need to take that strategy forward, and we need to do so while also being conscious of potential changes to the legal, political and social landscape we’re operating in. It’s a balance of taking the strategy forward while understanding that there’ll be external things that will be happening to us that we’ll have to respond to. We have so much work to do, but I believe we now have a really brilliant framework to work within.
Shane: For this to work, it’s important that we have a shared vision – and I really think that we do. We have a shared vision that we have the best market in the world and we need to make it even better. I think the questions that every trustee should ask themselves are: What is it that we need to do today to make this thing relevant tomorrow and even more relevant the day after? Who is the Market for? And how are we actually reaching those people?
What advice would you give to someone’s who’s shopping at Borough?
Shane: Talk to the traders. They’re the real experts. People often ask: “What’s your favourite stall?” But really the question should be: “What is it you want to eat today?” I don’t tend to want to eat the same food every single day, so that means I buy from different traders, and to really understand what they’re selling I need to ask them about it. Sometimes a trader’s products are exceptionally good on that particular day – they may have a highly seasonal product which only they sell. It’s by speaking to the traders that you get that real insight and find those real gems.
Claire: Exactly that: take your time and talk to the traders. And if you haven’t got time, watch the Instagram reels!