From a ‘free fridge’ to catering for 150 families every week – the story of a church-run food cooperative

07/10/2022

In the shadow of The Shard, and close to fashionable Borough Market, a food cooperative providing low cost or free food to 150 families a week is being run by St George the Martyr Church in Southwark.
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A team of volunteers in the church’s crypt cooks meals to take away and helps shoppers fill baskets with a selection of fruit, vegetables, meat, dairy, bakery and tinned goods. Members pay £4.50 per shop for goods worth £20-£25. 

Vouchers distributed via charities, schools and GPs cover the £4.50 charge for those who cannot afford it and a charity also provides vouchers for young families on low incomes to take fruit and vegetables.

The food is mainly surplus or donated – from sources such as Borough Market businesses and surplus food charities. Other items such as milk, cream, cheese, cakes and meat are bought by the cooperative.

“When we were discussing what the ethos would be, we decided that we wanted there to be available all the things you might want to have if you were to invite someone for dinner.

"We wanted the ethos to be one of hospitality, so there are items like cake to buy and meat for those who want it,” Rob Slater-Carr, Curate in Charge, (pictured above with Gus, the church's chaplaincy dog) said.

The cooperative grew from a modest ‘free fridge’ in the church providing a handful of people with food pre pandemic, to deliveries of meals during lockdown - made by furloughed chefs - and food parcels from a food bank. The church estimates that 80,000 meals were provided during the lockdowns.

The cooperative now has 1,500 members mainly drawn from social housing in the parish but also from further afield. It serves around 150 families a week, or an estimated 450 people. Its pool of volunteers has grown to 160 people. It also serves as a collection point for the nearby Waterloo food bank.

“The pandemic revealed that a lot of people were living in food poverty and could not afford to go to Tesco, or Sainsbury’s or other supermarkets. The pandemic is still here but shielding is not and people are still struggling,” Revd Slater-Carr said.

He said the church fund raises to pay for the cooperative to continue its service – including staff, food and energy costs. 

“Demand is ticking up,” Revd Slater-Carr said. “We are concerned about the coming winter, when people start to put their heating on again.”
 

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