Community supermarket provides lifeline - and now more are to open
- Credit: Billie Lawler
A pioneering shop in the heart of a deprived community has proved successful in providing "lifesaving" support to families in need.
The Burrell Shop, in the Charles Burrell Centre, in Thetford, opened in November last year and is the first of its kind in East Anglia, aiming to address the challenges people face in accessing good quality and affordable food with reduced cost goods.
The community supermarket, funded through Breckland Council, Norfolk Community Foundation and Feeding Britain, was opened on the Burrell estate after it was recognised as an area of deprivation with a large number of food bank participants living there and a high number of pupils receiving free school meals.
It has since expanded to include anyone in the Thetford area in need.
And months later after embedding the shop in the community, the scheme has proved successful with plans to open similar shops in Great Yarmouth and Gorleston under the Nourishing Norfolk initiative.
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An impact report revealed the reduced prices of products allow members to save around 40pc on their average weekly shop, which is estimated at around £18 per week.
Store manager Billie Lawler said: "People in our community are struggling. If you're receiving just 80pc of your usual wage or have lost your job, it can be impossible to manage.
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"The Burrell Shop is helping people stretch their income further to ensure no-one goes hungry.
"It's grown from no members to 160 in seven months. When we first opened one lady was absolutely gobsmacked as she saved around £40 a week."
Those behind the scheme said food is just the starting point with the shop also acting as a fuel and hygiene bank, and the centre planning three new projects for 2021.
This includes the opening of the Burrell Kitchen in September which will offer cookery courses to help people with food and meals, an allotment and wellbeing garden, and the 'freezer of love' which will provide one pot meals for those in need that can be cooked on a hob or microwave.
Nik Chapman, chief executive of the Charles Burrell Centre, said that the shop was part of a wider scheme that will help equip people in the community to learn life skills such as cooking.
He said: "We have food poverty but we also want to address nutrition poverty. That's why things like the training kitchen is so important.
"And there's also the fact, if you can't afford food you can't afford hygiene products.
"We really want to be more than food. It's about giving people the confidence in knowing we're here and to stop people falling over."
One member said: “This shop has been an absolute lifesaver for me – made redundant during Covid and with universal credit taking such a long time to be sorted, I don’t know how I’d have managed to feed myself and my son.”
Those behind the project hoped the benefits of the shop would be far greater than putting food on the table, and following a six month review they said it has been by helping build local community spirit and engagement, supporting a drive to a greener economy and promoting healthier lifestyles.
Claire Cullens, CEO at Norfolk Community Foundation, said the project aimed to solve the problem of people struggling to afford to feed their families in a way that preserved their dignity and gave them the "foundations and strength to move on."
She added: "We knew that Covid response funding was going to run out but the problem wasn’t going away.
"The first six months shows just what is possible.
"Now we need Norfolk to get behind us and help us to expand this model to other struggling communities.
"If we work together we can do so much to end food poverty here in Norfolk."