Giving surplus food social purpose with the Community Shop

Giving surplus food social purpose with the Community Shop
The Guardian


The UK’s first full-scale social supermarket opens today – selling low-cost, high-quality surplus food to hundreds of people on income support while helping them back into work.


Community Shop in West Norwood, Lambeth, is backed by mayor of London Boris Johnson. The mayor, whose team is headed by chair of the London Food Board Rosie Boycott, has helped find the premises in the capital and said Community Shop was a “sterling example of social enterprise and private organisations working together to create positive outcomes.”


Its model was also specifically highlighted by the all-party parliamentary inquiry into hunger in the United Kingdom in its “Feeding Britain” report, as one that should be developed to “make a real and positive difference to people’s living standards.”


Community Shop will work on a membership basis. There will be 750 members, all living locally and on income support. Members can shop for surplus food at 70% cheaper than usual prices from leading supermarkets and other major retailers and top brands, including Marks and Spencer, Asda, Tesco, Morrisons, The Co-operative Food, Ocado, Innocent, Brake Brothers, Nestlé and Muller.


While pressure on family budgets is eased through access to cheaper food, members also enrol on a tailored professional development programme called The Success Plan which aims to raise members’ self-confidence and job prospects.


Working with a team of professional mentors and drawing on support from local services in the store’s “hub”, they will be given help to identify the areas of their lives they need to work on, and then agree a roadmap to make improvements and kickstart positive change in their lives. These areas might be:


Confidence-building and resilience
Debt advice and home budgeting training
Cooking skills, including how to cook wholesome food on a budget. A chef will be working in the hub every day.
CV writing skills and job interview practice.


Whatever a member’s personal circumstances, Community Shop is committed to empowering individuals and building stronger families and communities. The services are funded from revenue raised by the sale of the food – showing how surplus food can achieve powerful positive social impact.


The London store marks the start of the national rollout programme after the success of a pilot store for 500 members opened in Goldthorpe, South Yorkshire, in December last year. There, one in five of those members who have completed training, which started four months after opening, have already found work.


It is estimated that around 3.5m tonnes of food is wasted every year in the UK before it even reaches people’s shopping basket – with about 10% of that figure good enough to be eaten – because it is simply in damaged packaging or has been mislabelled. In other cases, food has simply been over-ordered. But instead of being used to feed people, some of this surplus is sent to landfill, fed to animals, or turned into energy through anaerobic digestion. Community Shop demonstrates why this need not be the case.


The Lambeth store is the first in Community Shop’s plans to open 20 more stores across the country, with a number of locations already in the pipeline. Together they will directly support around 20,000 people nationwide, have a knock-on benefit to around 50,000 family members, and step up to deal with two of the biggest problems we face: food waste and food poverty.


Community Shop is part of the Company Shop Group, which has always been about doing business differently; looking at challenges in the UK supply chain and finding ways to solve them whilst delivering positive social, environmental and economic impact.


John Marren, chairman of Company Shop Group said: “Community Shop is tackling the problem of surplus food, whilst giving it real social purpose. Not only do we offer high-quality low-cost food to people experiencing tough times, but we provide them with the chance to take up support services because they are motivated to do better.


“Members can shop for good food at great prices, which eases pressure on their family budgets and they will also access tailored, professional development programmes, to kickstart positive change in their own lives. The support we have had from retailers and brands, from Lambeth Council, Rosie Boycott, the London Food Board, the GLA and of course from the mayor of London, has been fantastic and demonstrates the real need and support for a project like this in London and beyond.”


The mayor of London said: “I welcome the arrival of Community Shop’s first store in London. We hope this is the first in a chain of outlets in the capital that will provide access to affordable food for people struggling to make ends meet, whilst providing help back into work.”


Leader of Lambeth Council, councillor Lib Peck said: “The Community Shop is a fantastic initiative which makes a very real difference to people’s lives. We’re only too aware how difficult it has become for hundreds of families living on the breadline with rising costs over the last few years and the Community Shop will prove to be a lifeline for many.


“The Community Shop does a great job of matching up perfectly good surplus food with those who need it. But it’s not only about food – it’s about making communities that bit fairer and supporting those people who need a little bit of extra help. That’s why we’re happy to facilitate the Community Shop in Lambeth.”


Sir Jonathan Porritt, founder director of Forum for the Future said: “It’s brilliant that Community Shop will be opening its first full social supermarket in Lambeth. This is now a tried and tested business model, bringing significant benefits to local communities, to the food companies involved, and to the huge number of citizens now able to benefit from this highly creative way of avoiding waste in the food chain.”


Tristram Stuart, author, activist and founder of the environmental campaigning organisation Feedback said: “Like those behind Community Shop, I have seen the huge amounts of food wasted every single day in Britain before it even reaches people’s shopping baskets.


“We must all do more if we are to change our attitude to wasting food, and the pioneering Community Shop project is leading by example tackling the problem of surplus food by giving it social purpose. In not only selling food which would otherwise have gone to waste, but working to educate people about where the food they can buy has come from, they are transforming our approach to food and restoring its value.”