Social supermarkets provide choice and self-esteem for hardworking workers | social institutions

meIn the basement of a 283-year-old London church, you wouldn’t normally expect to see displays of fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and fish beside shelves of canned food, toilet rolls and diapers, and customers with baskets doing their weekly shop. .

But from September, that will be the scene at London’s first socialite supermarket, which will open in the cellars of Christchurch Spitalfields, a Nicholas Hawksmore-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 per week for the past year.

Smaller social supermarkets have sprung up all over the UK in recent years, some of which started out as food banks. (In a social supermarket, users pay for their groceries, but get a huge discount.) They serve low-income families—in Christ Church’s case, they are referred by the local elementary school—and pay membership and/or weekly fees for their store.

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

The vast majority of families that use a Christ Church food bank include one or two working adults. “With the energy crisis and the rising cost of living, it is difficult for parents to work and still not able to meet basic needs. It is a misconception that people who use food banks are out of work,” said Natasha Grimett, head of the church’s Social Transformation Department.

Instead of getting a free package of food and other staples, families using the new social supermarket will be able to choose from dozens of products. For a membership fee of £15 or £20 per year, they can do their weekly shop every Thursday for a fee of £3. Pepys social supermarket in Lewisham, south London, operates on similar lines: locals pay a £3.50 weekly fee for shopping which usually costs £30. Those who cannot bear this will still receive help from the Church of Christ.

Fruit and vegetables in the social supermarket
Supermarkets on social media get donations from supermarket chains, particularly from short-term goods. Photography: Gary Calton/The Observer

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

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

Created by Reverend Brigid Penny in the summer of 2020 to help local families, Christ Church Food Bank expanded last year thanks to funding from the UK branch of Japanese telecom company NTT Data. This was part of an initiative called The City Gives Back, which aims to help the Square Mile store and hospitality workers who were hit hard when office workers switched to working from home and the city became a ghost town.

The food bank has received nearly £50,000 so far from NTT Data UK and some of its clients, including insurers Howden Group, Tokio Marine Kiln and Ascot Group, and also receives donations from local supermarkets, mostly food near the sale date. . . NTT and Ascot have committed to fund the project for another year, and Grimmet said the church has also applied for grants.

She said turning the food bank into a social supermarket would help him reach more people and offer them a variety of foods and other essentials – as well as avoid the stigma caused by handouts. He will also offer debt counseling, money management, IT and English lessons.

“People have more autonomy in what they choose,” Grimett said. “We are shifting our model from responding to crises in the pandemic to addressing the chronic problems in our region, which include the cost of living.”

Brigid Penne with Fruit Box
Brigid Penny, pastor at Christ Church Spitalfields, who set up the food bank in 2020. Photo: Alicia Kanter/The Observer

The City of London is an area of ​​wide social disparity. It’s where the country’s high-income earners work – average earnings were £55,200 last year, compared to £25,000 across the UK, according to HMRC. What some families live for a week, some city workers easily spend on food in one day.

The idea for the food bank was the idea of ​​Kim Gray, who was Head of Diversity at NTT Data UK. She has now left the company but continues to lead the food project, in collaboration with Pete Pentecost, who lost his job at the start of the pandemic handing out the free City AM newspaper to passengers at the bank station.

“Pitt thinks the social supermarket is a great idea. It’s just the next evolution of the food bank,” Gray said. “The City of London has been generous during the pandemic and has made people more aware of local issues, but it is still very difficult for many.”

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