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03.02.2020 - News

Community Shop’s unique approach.

Back in 2012, we were deeply concerned about spiralling food poverty in the UK and we thought there must be a way that our redistribution knowledge and entrepreneurial, problem-solving spirit could help.


The Company Shop hadn’t built its success on rushing into things though. So we took our time to find the best possible solution. And that started with taking a step back and making sure we were asking the right question.





It seems sensible to solve problems of hunger by redistributing surplus food to those who need it. But this very transactional approach doesn’t solve any of the underlying problems that lead to food poverty. It can lead to a culture of food aid dependency, plus it ignores the important cultural role that food plays in family and community life. People don’t just eat to stay alive. They eat to share stories, show affection and build relationships.


So the question wasn’t “How can we use surplus food to feed hungry people?”. It was “How can we use surplus food to build stronger communities and more confident individuals?”





We talked with academic experts who’d looked at over a thousand social supermarkets all over Europe. We wanted to find the model that would help us do the most good. Of course, nothing is ever that simple. So we ended up cherry picking some of the best ideas we found and combining them to suit our country and the infrastructure of our business. Then we listened, learned and adapted, honing each Community Shop over time so it worked as well for each neighbourhood as it possibly could.


Here’s what we wanted each Community Shop to achieve:


• Provide quality food at deeply discounted prices to those who need it most, but can afford it least.
• Use the money raised from food sales to invest in the members we serve.
• Help our members to walk out of our shop, months later, as more confident people, equipped to meet life’s challenges.
• Act as a social hub that helps to build more cohesive communities.





Building stronger communities and more confident individuals is about more than food. So all our Community Shop members have the opportunity to engage with our success plan. This plays a really important role in making sure that our Community Shops make a lasting difference to their neighbourhoods. Starting with a simple survey, the success plan helps members build on what’s brilliant about their lives and knock down the barriers that aren’t. It then uses modular learning, group discussions and training to turn people who’ve walked in with nothing into confident individuals who walk out as community leaders. We want them to go out full of positive, problem solving energy that will improve their community’s resilience and self-reliance. Ultimately, we want to strengthen local communities to such a degree that a Community Shop is no longer needed. We’d love it if we managed to put ourselves out of a job!





We set up our first Community Shop in a disused carpet shop next to the library in Goldthorpe, a former South Yorkshire coal mining village. It had three interdependent spaces: a Community Store, a Community Hub and a Community Kitchen with a social eating space. Together they aimed to engage, inspire and connect every member who came through our doors. It’s still going strong.





There are about 8500 people in Goldthorpe, so for our next opening we decided to take the same three-space concept, but do it on a much larger scale for the 330,000 people of Lambeth. Home to 86 different nationalities, Lambeth is home to a hugely diverse range of people. We challenged ourselves to listen and learn again. It wasn’t easy. It took us about three years of piloting and experimentation to get things right. But we now have a model that can deliver high impact at scale. We now know what it takes to make a store work: food partners, a suitable property, support with fit out costs and a location that connects easily into the wider Company Shop infrastructure.





Our third store in Athersley in South Yorkshire was followed by another new store in Grimsby. We have plans for more stores in the coming years. We’ve won a pile of social enterprise awards including the Queen’s Award for Enterprise. We’ve also won the trust of MPs across different parties and we’ve partnered with The Trussell Trust, The Big Lottery Fund and the Mayor of London.



We’re still listening. We’re still learning. We’re still growing. We’re proud to be using our surplus expertise to make a positive difference in communities that need our help most.