Food for struggling citizens

Birkenhead market less than half price

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A “citizens’ supermarket” is to open in Birkenhead – targeting residents who are struggling to pay the bills.

Work has begun on the site, which will sell quality surplus groceries at less than half their normal cost and also offer supportive services including welfare rights, debt and budgeting advice, and jobseeking help.

The non-profit project, which also includes a community café providing hot meals at affordable prices, is a response to the increasing levels of poverty being seen by the town’s food bank.

On the brink of destitution

Run by the charity Feeding Birkenhead, it will target local people who are teetering on the brink of destitution, aiming to prevent them from ending up a situation of crisis.

Local MP Frank Field, who set up the local coalition as part of the Feeding Britain network that aims to eliminate UK hunger, said: “Over recent decades, many of the long term jobs which previously existed in Birkenhead – on the docks, for example – have been replaced by zero-hours, agency-type work, which is casual and insecure.

“The food bank is seeing more and more people who are working in these types of jobs but who can’t make ends meet, and who are now being clobbered by Universal Credit.

“We want to cut off the supply to the food bank and see if the supermarket can help these people keep their heads above water. We want to help them ensure they are accessing the right benefits or to find better jobs, while also saving them two-thirds off their weekly shop. Then hopefully if their washing machine breaks or their child needs school uniform, it won’t tip them into crisis.”

Named Number 7, the supermarket at Pyramids Shopping Centre will be membership-based – with referrals made by one of Feeding Birkenhead’s partners, such as housing and healthcare organisations.

Access to the café and community support services will be available to all. Local charities and community groups will provide the support services.

Suppliers including Kellogg’s and Brakes have agreed to donate food supplies, while Marks & Spencer and Iceland have given equipment and Tesco has given technical advice. The shopping centre has offered the premises on a rent-free basis.

Hopes to expand

Field said: “There’s a broader political point here – we may give some people wings and they will fly but other people may still be dangerously close to needing food banks after the six months due to benefit levels being inadequate.
Some politicians say people who end up at food banks
do so because they can’t manage their money but
this project may show otherwise.”

The initiative is the latest in a series of innovative projects pioneered by Feeding Birkenhead. Over the past four years, thousands of children in the town have benefitted from its meals and activities during the school holidays, as well as school breakfasts during term time.

Rosie Oglesby, national director at Feeding Britain, said: “Birkenhead will be the first shop operated by Feeding Britain, and we hope to expand it to other areas of the country in the next few months.”

Main image: Lesley Shepherd from Pyramids Shopping Centre, which has donated the space, and local MP Frank Field 

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