We can provide a new model to help serve those in our communities who need it most - Bird Lovegod

Thinking of Sheffield city centre, it’s undergoing a transformation, and if there’s one word that sums up the intention behind the plans, it’s community.

High streets need to be places of people coming together, it’s not just about retail anymore, not just about shopping. That’s what the internet is for, this last year has shown us that. City centres need to be about people.

Last week I was on a Zoom call with a dozen groups involved in providing food support services, food banks and so on, and learned of an exciting new initiative, Community Groceries.

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There’s one opening in Sheffield next month, and they’re a mid way between a food bank and a conventional shop.

The author suggests a new model to the traditional foodbank
The author suggests a new model to the traditional foodbank

They seem to work like this; people pay an annual membership fee, £5, then for each shop they do, they pay just £3. They can browse the shelves and choose the items they want, they can select a set number of frozen items, tinned items, fruit and veg, and so on. I understand there’s also additional items on sale for very low cost, a box of eggs for 50p, for example.

In my mind this is a much better solution than food banks, which whilst necessary and vital, especially at the moment, are not a long-term solution. Community Groceries solve multiple problems simultaneously. The food and produce is for the most part donated by supermarkets and delivery retailers. It’s excess stock, and stock that has been ordered but failed delivery.

For example, if Amazon Groceries can’t deliver an order and it’s returned to the warehouse, it doesn’t go back on the shelves, that’s too labour intensive. Now it can be provided to people in need at nominal cost. People can use the community groceries shop twice a week, they get a membership card, and whilst there they can also access other services, including debt advice and support, job seeking advice, life skills, training, and one-to-one support including counselling. It’s a completely brilliant solution and I’m certain once people find out about them they’ll be extremely busy.

As we all know, a combination of factors is decimating cities as retail places; thinking about Sheffield city centre there’s already a dozen or more vacant retail units that would be ideal for Community Groceries. If the town centres are to be regenerated around the idea of community, bringing people together, then this could provide thousands of people with an affordable means of shopping for necessities.

It can drastically reduce food waste and be a really life-enhancing process for everyone involved, improving physical health, mental health, emotional wellbeing, and doing so in a way that respects people’s dignity and doesn’t separate the ‘haves’ from the ‘have nots’. It’s an elegant solution. Community Groceries should be in every town and city, and not just one, but many of them, in the town centres as well as in localised areas.

Community, real community, not the online simulation but actual community, is what everyone needs now and in the coming months and years. Covid accelerated the demise of high streets and has highlighted the new direction. Community is what we nostalgically hark back to, people meeting and talking and interacting, let’s re-create it for our new age.

And once Community Groceries are commonplace, who knows? Community Clothes, helping reduce the vast wastage in the clothing retail sector? Community Computers? Our society is awash with consumables, from food and clothing to every other material thing. Communificiation might just be the next step in the long heritage of the evolving retail sector. Have a look at community grocery.org.uk to find out more.