Social supermarkets and foodbanks – tackling hunger and poverty together

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When asked about the rise of foodbanks and poverty in Britain, Archbishop Desmond Tutu said,

“There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they’re falling in.”

The Trussell Trust is best known for its work running a network of foodbanks providing three days of emergency food and support to people in crisis in communities across the UK. A record 1.1 million of these parcels were given to people supported by our 420+ foodbank projects in the last year alone.  This is work we are proud of– but it’s shameful that it is necessary.  We need to ensure that people left desperate, with nowhere to turn, get the support they need.

This starts with the food someone receives at a foodbank, alongside a sympathetic ear and cup of tea offered by a volunteer, who will also signpost people to other specialist support if they need it. Many foodbanks have widened their support  and  work with partners to deliver a number of additional projects aimed at breaking the cycle of poverty and avoiding a crisis that might lead someone to need a foodbank.

Now around 100 foodbanks run projects from our More Than Food programme, which include ‘Money Life’ (money and debt advice), ‘Eat Well Spend Less’ (a 6-week cooking and budgeting course), and holiday clubs.  But the causes of poverty are complex and communities, businesses and charities need to work together to give people who lack a financial cushion or other support structures the best possible support.

That’s why we’re excited about our plan to embark on a new, innovative, partnership with Community Shop – bringing our More Than Food support services to the community cafes in their social supermarkets. Community Shop was pioneered by Company Shop to get wholesome surplus food to people on low incomes, as well as offer a mentoring programme to develop skills. This will allow us to help people who might not have reached a crisis point and ended up at a foodbank, but have complex issues or are facing social isolation which might tip them into crisis in the future.

The pilot will be trialled in two locations and both The Trussell Trust and Community Shop believe that by working together there is the potential to be able to help more people before they reach crisis point. The two organisations are now actively looking for locations of approximately 20,000 square feet of space, where projects can be developed.

We believe that support services like debt advice and personal development, offered by the Trust’s More Than Food and Community Shop’s ‘Success Plan’, could be co-located in hubs featuring a social supermarket offering affordable food, a foodbank café, and other local initiatives to target poverty in the community and help people break out of crisis.  Our ‘Money Life’ debt advice service has already been a huge help to hundreds of people this year and has been effective in breaking the cycle of debt. People attending our ‘Eat Well Spend Less’ cooking and budgeting course have told us it’s a massive confidence boost.

Since attending an Eat Well Spend Less course, mother of two Judith has managed to reduce her food bill and has gained more confidence in her ability:

“It changed how I spent my money, now I am spending a third less on food as a result of the course. I am making big savings and I am using the money I am saving to pay off some of my other debts.”

Judith has also been able to share these skills with her family:

“My young son comes and helps me in the kitchen now, he is my little sous chef when I am preparing meals. I’m also now not buying cereal bars for my children as I learnt how to make my own here.”

It makes sense. Both organisations share a common vision to transform lives by empowering local communities. They can be complementary rather than seek to compete with each other to help people.

We still have a long way to go to make sure the benefits system is as fair as it should be for people in poverty in the UK. By partnering with organisations like Community Shop, we hope to do more to break social isolation and help people with the dignity they deserve, to try and make sure they never need to use the foodbank again.

David McAuley

Chief Executive of The Trussell Trust