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We caught up with Stef from Sussex Community Development Association (SCDA) shortly after they launched their second Community Supermarket in Newhaven, following the growth of their Peacehaven site.

Evolving out of a more traditional food bank model, the idea for a community supermarket had been brewing for some time. Stef, Food Security Project Manager at SCDA, learned from other models that took a more flexible and sustainable approach such as the UK Pantry Network and Brightstore and used these ideas to launch their own service based on the needs of their local community.

Plans were in the works, but the pandemic is what pushed them to adapt their services and make the switch, initially to a delivery model, which saw their numbers increase rapidly; from 30 to 100 households a week across Newhaven and Peacehaven in the peak of the pandemic. 

They now have a physical ‘supermarket’ space where members can access food from Kempton House Day Centre on Thursdays from 11am to 3pm or Denton Island Community Centre on Mondays during the same hours. With lockdown easing, they have begun to offer chats over a cup of tea as well as access to fresh produce, store-cupboard items and take-away meals, with 80% of produce coming from FareShare. 

This isn’t just a service for people in crisis but it is for the whole community, which we feel provides a longer term solution for struggling households. Without the same short-term referral systems as food banks, the Community Supermarkets take away the worry of the parcels running out and makes it about other things, like social interaction and reducing food waste. 

Part of the ethos is about blurring the lines between the clients, the volunteers and staff, which helps to destigmatise the process of accessing support.

Stef, Food Security Project Manager

As the supermarkets currently offer a free membership with a pay-as-you-feel shop, and have few restrictions on what people can take, we were keen to learn how they manage food levels and make it fair for everyone. It was so interesting to hear from Stef that on the whole, clients have been reluctant to not take too much, and have needed to be encouraged to take what they need. 

One story they shared was about a member who felt awful for taking the food, even though she was struggling financially. One of the volunteers, also a member, was able to explain that by taking this food, they were helping to reduce food waste. The volunteer shared a recipe for the tomatoes FareShare provided and the member was left feeling empowered and part of the community, working together to tackle food waste. 

Stef told us a bit more about the food they receive from FareShare and how important it is to their project.

We love the fresh produce, and the variety. The more random things that people wouldn’t necessarily choose or have access to pushes people to be creative.

As well as stocking their ‘supermarket’ shelves, the food from FareShare gets turned into delicious take-away or frozen meals in their kitchen that is mostly run by volunteer cooks, some of whom are members who want to improve their cookery skills.

Stef explained how they often get a lot of donated cans of chickpeas, so regularly make houmous and get as creative as possible. One of their recipes was for a sweet ‘snickerdoodle houmous’ which went down a real treat. One member commented that her daughter happily sat and ate it straight out of the tub with a spoon! 

Snickerdoodle houmous recipe: blitz 1 can of chickpeas, 130g of any nut butter, 150g of maple syrup or honey, 1 tsp of cinnamon and a pinch of salt until smooth in a food processor or smoothie maker.

One member, Graham, shares his story:

I have been a member of the Peacehaven Community Supermarket for about six weeks.

When I went along to ours for the first time I was pleasantly surprised by how friendly and welcoming the team of volunteers were.  Everything was displayed really well and was easy to see and reach, and there was a good choice of fresh fruit and vegetables, homemade produce and dried and tinned goods and toiletries. I was also given a very useful book of affordable healthy recipes and each of the frozen items I took home had their recipe on them, which I could then make at home. 

I look forward to going each week, as all of the volunteers are so kind and helpful and always have time to have a quick chat while they are with you.

I had only just moved into Peacehaven before the pandemic started, so I hadn’t had a chance to get to know many people from the area and each week through the conversations I have, I learn something new about our community.  In the past I have worked in the catering industry, so I asked if I could volunteer in the kitchen. 

I had some life changing illness a few years ago so I was really pleased when I was given the opportunity to join in on Denton Island. It’s a great experience working with them, very rewarding and I am learning a lot from the excellent team there.

Thank you so much to Stef for chatting with us about this brilliant project. To find out more about the SCDA and the community supermarkets, visit their website.