Demand caused by cost of living rises is to see a network of community shops offering a cut-price lifeline to struggling families expanded across Norfolk.
The Nourishing Norfolk Network, which started life with a single pilot hub based in Thetford, plans to expand to 15 community supermarkets by the end of the year.
It aims to support 5,000 households, offering members affordable groceries at heavily subsidised prices.
Claire Cullens, chief executive of the Norfolk Community Foundation, which funded the first shop with Breckland Council and Feeding Britain, said it had initially been a response to the pandemic but was now needed more than ever.
“With price increases and the cost of living through energy prices rising, as well as the rise in National Insurance, we know that this is going to get much worse,” she said.
With Norfolk so heavily associated with agriculture, it cannot be right that an estimated 57,000 people were being forced to cut back on meals or seek help accessing food every month, she added.
“Many of these people are in work. They are people who are just struggling to make ends meet.”
The Burrell Shop, which opened in 2020 on the Burrell estate – where there are many food bank participants and a high number of pupils receiving free school meals – has seen over 350 Thetford households become members, feeding around 1,200 people.
It has been followed by The Food Pantry Feltwell, a smaller shop run by volunteers serving a highly rural community, and the Shrublands Food Club, which supports households in Gorleston – an area where there is increasing need.
The initiative is about to launch two more community shops in Norwich; the Soul Foundation Social Supermarket and The Feed Social Supermarket on Hall Road.
Lucy Parish, of The Feed, which is opening its store offering affordable groceries as well as advice sessions and other help in association with Norwich City Council, said: “It will be a dignified food support service that provides routes into other support services to prevent the need for emergency food provision.”
The community-run shops work on a member basis with families who wish to use its services asked to sign up with a one-off small joining fee.
Ms Cullens said they sell short shelf-life food, sourced from big national networks, and surplus supplies from farmers and local supermarkets, with families saving an average 40pc on a weekly shop.
“It allows people to stabilise, plan and budget and make ends meet at a time when they might not be able to,” she said.
“In contrast to something like a foodbank where you get help when suddenly thrown into crisis through something like redundancy, we wanted something where people make choices rather than receiving help but not being able to move out of it.”
Also opening imminently is the Breckland Mobile Food Store, a bus service offering cut-price goods, and a Norfolk distribution hub with a further 13 will be able to open if funding and support can be secured.
“It is a great way for Norfolk to come together to support local people. We are a food growing county. The idea that anyone should go hungry is a hard one to live with,” said Ms Cullens.
“We must be able to do something and we do have surplus food but the only way to do it is we all work together as a system.
“The way that it is working is people coming together and supporting the set up of these organisations, local farmers and businesses donating food, while we coordinate that response with charities and local authorities.”
Once established the stores will also offer other practical help, support and for families hit hard by the cost of living increases.
“Families have pressing bills in front of them and they have all gone up,” she added. “ Which ones do you choose to pay? Which ones do you go without? These aren’t luxuries, eating and being in a home that is warm enough.
“People just don’t have enough disposable income to match the costs of living even on margins today.”
The Burrell Shop
Based at Charles Burrell Centre in Thetford. It is open Monday to Wednesday from 4pm to 6pm, Thursday 9am-1pm and Saturday 10am to noon.
After paying a one-off joining fee of £3.50 per household, members can buy fresh, frozen, dried and tinned food, alongside toiletries, nappies and personal care items.