Social supermarkets offer choice and self-esteem to hardened workers | Social enterprises

IIn the crypt of a 283-year-old London church, you wouldn’t normally expect to see stalls of fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and fish alongside shelves of tinned food, toilet paper rolls and nappies, and customers with baskets doing their weekly shopping.

But from September it will be the scene of the City of London’s first social supermarket, due to open in the vaults of Christ Church Spitalfields, a Nicholas Hawksmoor-designed church near the financial district. It will replace a food bank set up during the pandemic that has been used by 20 to 70 families a week for the past year.

Small social supermarkets have sprung up in the UK in recent years, with some starting out as food banks. (In a social supermarket, users pay for their groceries, but get a steep discount.) They cater to low-income families – in the case of Christ Church, these are referred by the local primary school – and pay a membership fee and/or a weekly fee for their store.

Christ Church Spitalfields is a stone’s throw from the city’s gleaming towers. Photography: Antonio Olmos

The vast majority of families using the Christ Church Food Bank have one or two working adults. Natasha Grimmett, social transformation leader at the church, said: “With the energy crisis and the rising cost of living, it’s hard when two parents are working and they’re still not able to meet basic needs. It is a misconception that people who use food banks are unemployed.

Rather than picking up a free packet of food and other basics, families using the new social supermarket will be able to choose from dozens of products. For a membership fee of £15 or £20 a year, they can do their weekly shopping every Thursday for £3. Social supermarket Pepys in Lewisham, south London, works the same way: locals pay £3.50 a week for purchases that would normally cost £30. Those who cannot afford it will always receive help from Christ Church.

fruits and vegetables in a social supermarket
Social supermarkets receive donations from supermarket chains, especially short-term items. Photograph: Gary Calton/The Observer

Everything in the social supermarket will be color-coded: green is for lower-cost staples like rice, pasta, canned goods and basic vegetables, as well as toilet rolls and hygiene products; the yellow category includes milk, eggs, more vegetables, fruits and premium cleaning products; red is for the most expensive items – meat, fish and disposable diapers.

A working single mother who regularly uses a food bank said the social supermarket was “a very good idea because it will give people the opportunity and the freedom to choose what they need in their basket without feeling embarrassed”.

Created by Pastor Brigid Beney in the summer of 2020 to help local families, the Christ Church food bank expanded last year with funding from the UK branch of Japanese telecommunications company NTT Data. It was part of an initiative called The City Gives Back, which aimed to help workers in stores and hospitality on the Square Mile who were hit hard when office workers switched to working from home and the city is turned into a ghost town.

The food bank has so far received nearly £50,000 from NTT Data UK and some of its customers, including insurers Howden Group, Tokio Marine Kiln and Ascot Group, and also receives donations from local supermarkets, often of food close to its expiration date. . NTT and Ascot have pledged to fund the project for another year, and Grimmett said the church has also applied for grants.

She said turning the food bank into a social supermarket would help her reach more people and offer them a wider variety of food and other essentials – while avoiding the stigma of a handout. It will also offer debt advice and courses in money management, IT and English.

“People have a little more autonomy in what they choose,” Grimmett said. “We are shifting our model from a response to the pandemic crisis to addressing the chronic issues in our region, which include the cost of living. »

Brigid Beney with a box of fruit
Brigid Beney, pastor at Christ Church Spitalfields, who set up her food bank in 2020. Photograph: Alicia Canter/The Observer

The City of London is an area of ​​great social disparity. This is where the highest earners in the country work – he had an average income of £55,200 last year, compared to £25,000 in the UK, according to HMRC. What some families live off for a week, some city workers easily spend on food in a day.

The food bank was the brainchild of Kim Gray, who was head of diversity at NTT Data UK. She has now left the company but still runs the food project, working with Pete Pentecost, who at the start of the pandemic lost his job delivering the free City AM newspaper to commuters at Bank station.

“Pete thinks the social supermarket is a great idea. This is just the next evolution of the food bank,” Gray said. “The City of London has been generous during the pandemic and has raised awareness of local issues, but it is still very difficult for many. »

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Scroll to Top