Community Shop

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Community Shop

Community Shop opens: ‘it’s light at the end of the tunnel’

Social enterprise is intended to help people on benefits by offering discounted healthy food as well as other support

Haroon Siddique, The Guardian, Monday 15 December 2014


With rump steaks for 50p, 30 eggs for £2.10 and products from rival stores sitting alongside each other on the shelves, it is obvious that the Community Shop, which officially opened on Monday, is not the average supermarket. The shop in West Norwood, south London, is a social enterprise aimed at helping people on benefits by providing them with heavily discounted healthy food deemed surplus by supermarkets, and by giving them the support they need to change their lives, including getting back into employment.

“It’s exactly what’s needed,” said one customer, Sherene Pryce, 34. “It’s a squeeze usually, you have to be shopping around, going to loads of different supermarkets, trying to get the best deals. Convenience foods are so much cheaper but we want to give our kids fresh, healthy food.” Apart from the lower prices, the shop has the feel of a regular supermarket. All the food is in date and fit for consumption but has been discarded by other retailers for various reasons – it is misshapen, for example, or the packaging is damaged. Prices are between 10% and 50% of the usual elsewhere. A community cafe in the store also sells surplus food at a discount. Sarah Dunwell, Community Shop’s director of social affairs, said: “We wanted the shop to feel like the sort of convenience store that anyone would be happy to shop in. The worst thing for us was for it to feel like charity.”

To become a member of the shop, the only requirements are that you are on means-tested benefits and live within a catchment area. The shop will take up to 750 members, and after opening for three days during a soft launch last week it already has 150, including Pryce who was at the store on Monday with her friend Marie Keymist.

Keymist, also 34, described the store as “the light at the end of the tunnel”, while another shopper, who did not wish to be named, told the Guardian it was “the first time I’ve been able to eat beef for years”.

Pryce and Keymist were angered by recent comments by the Tory peer Lady Jenkin suggesting that poorer people were going hungry because they did not know how to cook. Their argument that people are forced to rely on convenience foods because of the cost of buying fresh seemed to be borne out by the fact that fruit and vegetables were the biggest sellers during last week’s soft launch.

Membership gives access not just to low-cost food but also to a programme to help people change their lives in the longer-term. Members have an initial four-week course intended to help them identify their goals and the barriers stopping them from achieving them. Then they have a bespoke plan created by the shop’s two mentors in light of the issues they have raised.

Pryce, 34, who previously worked in childcare but has been a full-time mother for five years, said getting back into employment was harder than people thought, but she was looking forward to getting help with job applications and CVs. “It’s really hard when you’ve got a big gap [in time on your CV]. When you say you’ve been raising your kids, people don’t see that as a job,” she said. Dunwell said: “Just having access to discounted food is not going to change anyone’s life. They need a bespoke package that needs to be about them, what they want to change in their life. We allow members to work out what barriers they have and how to overcome those barriers.”

Following the success of a pilot scheme in Goldthorpe, South Yorkshire, which opened a year ago, there are ambitions to expand the concept across the country, with 20 more shops planned, including six in London. “It’s about relieving the pressure on household budgets,” said Dunwell.

Community Shop website: