Now Britain’s first “social supermarket” in Goldthorpe, Barnsley, has been held up as a shining beacon which will be rolled out across the nation.
As the Community Shop – which offers cheap products to people on welfare support – celebrates its first year in business, the Government has unveiled plans for a host of stores up and down the UK.
Backed by big brands such as Marks and Spencer, Tesco, Morrisons and Asda, the supermarket sells everything from toothpaste and tins of food for up to 70 per cent less than their normal price, while providing support to get back into work.
In less than 12 months, 100 people who have completed training offered there have found employment.
The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, led praise for the model, inspired by similar schemes in other parts of Europe, as he marked the opening of a “full-scale social supermarket” in Lambeth.
“This is a sterling example of social enterprise and private organisations working together to create positive outcomes,” he said.
“We hope this is the first in a chain of outlets in the capital that will provide access to affordable food for people struggling to make ends meet whilst providing help back into work.”
The Goldthorpe store is operated by Barnsley-based Company Shop, the UK’s largest commercial redistributor of surplus food and goods, which recognised the need to provide a longer-term solution to hard-hit households in the economic downturn.
It is headed up by social entrepreneur Sarah Dunwell, the former chief executive of Create, a Leeds-based catering firm which enjoyed success in giving a fresh start to thousands of vulnerable people before running into financial difficulties last year.
Customers at the Community Shop are given membership cards following eligibility checks, and there are now 500 regular users.
Products which have forecasting errors, seasonal promotions and packaging faults from retailers and manufacturers such as Innocent and Muller are sold on at a knock-down price.
Members can also sign up for help from professional mentors from the in-store hub, which gives advice on budgets, debt management, CV writing and even offers job interview practice.
While most new customers said they came predominantly for discount food, access to support networks is now responsible for 35 per cent of visits.
The blueprint was praised by the all-party parliamentary inquiry into hunger in its Feeding Britain report. MPs recommended the blueprint should be developed to “make a real and positive difference to people’s living standards”.
The chairman of Company Shop Group, John Marren, said: “Community Shop is tackling the problem of surplus food, whilst giving it real social purpose. Not only do we offer high-quality low-cost food to people experiencing tough times, but we provide them with the chance to take up support services because they are motivated to do better.
“Members can shop for good food at great prices, which eases pressure on their family budgets, and they will also access development programmes to kick-start positive change in their lives.”
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