Four people stood in a line next to each other all wearing aprons that say 'The People's Pantry' across the front. They are celebrating cultural exchange

From Mandalay to Mereside: Blackpool pantry celebrates cultural exchange in new food project

Blackpool arts company LeftCoast is celebrating cultural exchange through it’s latest project, The People’s Pantry, by bringing together communities from Myanmar and Mereside. 

The initiative is an exchange pantry, which aims to playfully challenge the different ways Blackpool communities can share food and reduce food waste.

While being on opposite ends of the world, local volunteers from The People’s Pantry connected with WHOW, a social enterprise that works with the weaving community in Mandalay, Myanmar, through their shared love of organic materials; finding creative solutions to reduce the environmental impact of their projects; and developing self-sustainable communities and circular economies. 

Graphic Designer Dan Astbury, who was born in Blackpool but now lives in Cambodia, has worked with LeftCoast since 2020, and has collaborated with Blackpool residents to co-design the branding for numerous projects including Wash Your Words: Langdale Library and Laundry Room, as well as The People’s Pantry.

He introduced the two communities and explored different ways they could work together, landing on the idea that the Mandalay weaving community could make bespoke aprons for the volunteers in Blackpool.

Four people stood in a line next to each other all wearing aprons that say 'The People's Pantry' across the front. They are celebrating cultural exchange
Left to right - Tracey and Sue, The People's Pantry VIPeas, next to Catherine Peters, LeftCoast's Neighbourhood Producer, and Graphic Designer Dan Astbury

Dan said: “One of my favourite things about working with LeftCoast over the years, is that no matter where I am in the world, I am able to connect with the communities back home. 

“Now, through collaborating with The People’s Pantry, it has given me the chance to bridge the creative community of home and my home away from home, Mandalay, Myanmar.

“The aprons are made by WHOW, the Social Enterprise started by my partner and I. She is the brains and I am the brander. It’s a pleasure to work with such inspirational and creative people from both parts of the world, and a lot of fun to be the piece that connects these two communities together.” 

Catherine Peters, LeftCoast’s Neighbourhood Producer, added: “When Dan first talked to us about WHOW, I recognised synergy in terms of the exploration of sustainability through our programming at Wash Your Words and the obvious connection to The Peoples Pantry through creative ways to use food and natural materials. 

“As our practice builds relationships in our neighbourhoods, it feels important to support another community within this project, as we explore exchange, not just in our own town but also across continents, showing earth care as a real possibility to our residents.”

A lady with cotton in her hand at a weaving company in Myanmar
Nandar making cotton by hand at the Myanmar weaving community (Photo: WHOW)
WHOW weaving production in Myanmar (Photo: WHOW)

The aprons have been made at the Hnin WittHmone Natural Dye Cotton Weaving Centre close to where the Myanmar military air strikes are currently taking place. More than 80,000 homes have been destroyed in the conflict, seeing over one million refugees flee Myanmar to escape the violence.

All of the workers are women living in the surrounding countryside. They use natural materials such as cotton, silk, lotus, and bamboo fibre, which is spun by hand, and make natural dye from bark, leaves, fruit, and onion skin.

Nandar, who works at the weaving centre and was part of the team who made the aprons, says: “It is a passion of mine to create new colour by mixing different dyeing materials.

“During the Pandemic, it was very difficult to continue running the workshop, but the weaving women are the leaders of their families, earning the household income instead of their husband, as all other work had to stop.

“We are very thankful to work with WHOW, as they continue to collaborate through all the tough times we have faced in these recent years.”

It’s the first time the Hnin WittHmone Natural Dye Cotton Weaving Centre has sold products in Europe, after the pandemic and military coup affected production.

During a visit home, Dan brought the aprons to Blackpool, and presented them to The People’s Pantry volunteers.

They said: “The aprons are absolutely beautiful! I love the way they have been made, the material is so soft and looks so rustic – they’ve been made just right.”

You can find out more about The People’s Pantry by heading to one of LeftCoast’s Exchange Days taking place in Bostonway, Hawes Side (FY4 4YQ) on the following dates:

• 28th March, 11am to 2pm

• 25th April, 11am to 2pm

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