Roots to Work: the policy manager

Amy Deptford speaks to us about her journey from being a public health nutritionist to managing policy and advocacy work at Alexandra Rose Charity which focuses on food access and security.

Wednesday 24 April 2024

Amy Deptford, Alexandra Rose Charity. Credit: Amy Deptford

Amy Deptford, Alexandra Rose Charity. Credit: Amy Deptford

Please introduce yourself and give a brief overview of what you do.

I am a Public Health Nutritionist by background and have spent the majority of my career researching about and advocating for nutritious, climate-friendly diets that are affordable, available and accessible for all. I am currently the Policy and Advocacy Manager at Alexandra Rose Charity (ARC). Our mission at ARC is to give families on low incomes access to fresh fruit and vegetables in their local communities. I lead the charity’s policy and public affairs activities, which means I spend much of my time talking about the links between poverty, diet, and health and the impact of our projects to local and national decision-makers.    

What was your route into the sustainable food sector?

I am from a farming family who are passionate about all things growing, cooking, and eating food. My mum taught me how to cook from a young age, and I knew early on that I wanted a career that involved food in some way.

My undergraduate degree was in Food and Nutrition at Sheffield Hallam University. In my final year, I was asked to write an essay on the soft drink industry in Nigeria, and discovered a passion for public health and international development. I went straight on to complete a MSc in International Public Health Nutrition at Westminster University and haven’t looked back since.    

For eight years, I worked internationally for Save the Children UK and then for the UN World Food Programme (WFP). I specialised in a research tool called the Cost of the Diet, which helps to understand the extent to which affordability is a barrier to households eating a nutritious diet. At WFP, I supported governments in Africa and South East Asia to use this evidence to inform their national policies on nutrition, school feeding, agriculture and welfare.

Feeling increasingly dismayed by the levels of food insecurity and food-related ill health in the UK, I moved back home to find a relevant policy and advocacy job and eventually found my role at ARC.  

What’s the best thing about the work that you do?

I love that every day is different. Fixing our broken food system requires concerted action from many stakeholders, which means you have to be nimble in how you approach different opportunities. I really enjoy that challenge.

What challenges or obstacles have you faced in your career and how have you overcome them?   

Getting my foot in the door was one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced in my career. I was overqualified and under-experienced when I entered the job market having completed a MSc but not worked internationally. I was very lucky in how my first role with Save the Children UK came about, and was offered an internship, that eventually became a permanent position. Once I was through the door, I took any opportunity I could to network and make connections with people – you never know who you may end up talking to and what opportunities may come from a chance encounter.

Transitioning from working internationally to a relevant role in the UK also took time, not helped by the pandemic. I worked in transferable policy and public affairs roles for a few years, which helped me gain UK experience, whilst keeping an eye out for opportunities to get back into the sector.    

Who or what inspires your work in this movement?

The rise in grassroot campaign movements focused on how our food environment impacts our health, especially those that centre the voices of young people, have really inspired me. Whenever I feel low or frustrated, it’s their stories I turn to for motivation.

What are your hopes for the future? 

Ultimately, to do myself out of a job! Perhaps not in my lifetime, but I am optimistic for the future. I'm encouraged by how the narrative around diet-related ill health is changing, with greater recognition, particularly amongst the public and policymakers, of how what we eat is shaped by what is available, accessible, and what we can afford. There is still a long way to go, but it's an exciting time to work in this policy area. 

What advice would you give to anyone that is passionate about sustainable food systems and wants to work in this sector?

Get yourself out there and start talking to people. In my experience, people working in the sector are very generous with their time and advice. Volunteering is a great way to meet like-minded people and get a feel for the different jobs available. If you desire a job in nutrition and food system policy, I’d recommend volunteering for community projects to keep you grounded in the reality of what you are advocating for. If you want to work internationally, it can help to specialise in a technical area (i.e. nutrition, health, education).  

Find out more about Alexandra Rose Charity

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