Demand soars at UK’s first citizens’ supermarket

The UK’s first citizens’ supermarket has seen its membership swell to 900 people during Covid-19.

Feeding Birkenhead’s Number 7 was awarded a three-year grant of £169,000 in 2018 by the Steve Morgan Foundation to contribute to staff costs and help with the creation of the thriving community shop and café.

The work of the shop attracted global attention during a visit in January 2019 by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, who was heavily pregnant at the time.

Number 7’s members typically pay a third of regular supermarket prices for food at the shop in Princes Pavement, Birkenhead, where they can also get advice and support to deal with the underlying causes of hardship.

The not-for-profit citizens’ supermarket focuses its resources on people whose income means they don’t yet need a food bank but struggle to afford regular supermarket prices without falling behind on housing and utility costs.

Andrew Forsey is the national director of Feeding Britain, which is the organisation behind Number 7 and the wider Feeding Birkenhead initiative.

Feeding Birkenhead is a coalition of churches, food banks, community groups and other organisations working together to eliminate hunger in Birkenhead.

He said: “Feeding Birkenhead was the first regional partnership in the Feeding Britain network and we’ve now got 16 regional partnerships modelled on Wirral.

“Without the Steve Morgan Foundation’s support we couldn’t have done what we’ve done. Since lockdown an additional 300 temporary memberships of Number 7 have been taken out, largely by people who have been furloughed, had their hours reduced or lost their job completely.”

He said the origins of the charity date back to 2014 when a cross-party group of politicians led by the then Birkenhead MP Frank Field was tasked with looking at why so many people were using food banks and what could be done to reverse these trends.

Andrew said: “People were choosing between keeping a roof over their head, paying the gas or electricity, or eating. We thought there had to be a better way and Feeding Britain was set up in late 2015 to try a range of approaches for improving people’s access to affordable food.”

He said they took a three-pronged approach in Birkenhead, where the problem was particularly acute.

“We identified a pinch point in school holidays, when costs went up and free school meals weren’t available, so we started putting on activities and communal meals to take the pressure off family budgets,” said Andrew.

“The second part is called Food Bank Plus and involves putting expert advisors into emergency food projects to offer immediate help and resolve the issues that resulted in people needing to seek food aid.

“The third and final part was the creation of a citizens’ supermarket after we identified a gap in the system between those people able to go to the supermarket with relatively few financial worries and those going to a food bank in a crisis situation – often with no money at all.

“It would be aimed at people on low incomes and who may have fallen behind in their rent and household bills. And so Number 7 was born. People could take out a membership and get a shopping basket of food at a fraction of the cost at a regular supermarket.”

Typically £10 spent in Number 7 enables a family to access a shopping basket of food worth between £25 and £30 in a supermarket.

The organisers say the savings help members eat properly and catch up on their rent and other bills.

Andrew said it was the funding from the Steve Morgan Foundation that helped to turn the idea for Number 7 into reality.

“As well as offering an upfront sum they provided a three-year grant towards staffing costs until 2021,” he said. “This incredibly generous support from the Foundation – alongside mega contributions from local businesses, housing associations, and community groups – made it possible to establish the supermarket.

“The Steve Morgan Foundation has set a stunning example to other philanthropic and grant-making bodies, in respect of both the financial muscle it has brought to the efforts of our community to alleviate poverty and disadvantage, as well as the professional and helpful manner in which it always conducts itself.

“The model we’ve set up here is to become self-sufficient by the end of the grant period.

“The demand for it has really increased during the pandemic and – thanks to the ingenuity of Andy Pilling and his brilliant team who run Number 7 – we’ve launched a back to school package to offset some of the costs of buying school uniforms, shoes etc.”

Andrew said the Royal visit by Prince Harry and his  wife Meghan in 2019 had generated huge amounts of interest.

“Meghan said she loved the concept of helping people in such an effective and compassionate way,” he said.

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