London’s first combined welfare and food club for hundreds of people opens tomorrow through a subsidised mini-market set up by Croydon Council, community group The Family Centre and charities.
From tomorrow (Friday 27 October), families on Universal Credit and anyone unemployed living in Fieldway and New Addington can get around £20-worth of fresh fruit and vegetables, meat, dairy and other foods each week for £3.50 at the Food Stop based at The Family Centre, in Field Way.
The scheme is innovative because, in return for access to discounted groceries, families in need are signed up to receive help from Croydon Council’s Gateway service. Established in response to government welfare reforms, the Gateway service has helped more than 1,000 families avoid homelessness through support with household budgeting, benefits advice and training courses to improve their maths, English and digital skills.
The Food Stop will be open every Wednesday and Friday to anyone who has an address in Fieldway or New Addington wards, but priority is given to residents on benefits such as Universal Credit. Membership will include access to council officers offering help to prevent homelessness and support with household finances. Members will also receive access to a weekly jobs club, volunteering opportunities, healthy cooking workshops and support to quit smoking.
The mini-market offers a wider range of products than usually provided at a food bank, and customers have more choice. The project is also geared towards helping families become healthier, as each food group is colour-coded and customers can have more green items – such as pulses and rice – than meats, which are red items. Food with a short shelf life, such as fresh fruit, vegetables and bread, is free.
The Food Stop has been made possible by volunteers and staff at The Family Centre, Croydon Council, and FareShare, a national charity that sources and delivers surplus supplies to the Food Stop. The scheme is part-funded with over £16,600 from the Evening Standard’s Dispossessed Fund, £5,000 from council repairs contractor Mulalley, and £10,000 from Croydon Council.
Julia Weller, chief executive officer of the Family Centre, said the initial target is to get 100 members of the Food Stop. She said: “Our priority is anyone who is out of work, but we’d like to open it up because there are also the working poor we want to include.”
She said the Food Stop is a community effort, from council Gateway staff offering logistical help and local volunteers painting the centre, to Tesco in Elmers End donating surplus food.
She added: “We couldn’t have done any of this without everyone’s input, from the council and FareShare to local residents.”
Councillor Hamida Ali, cabinet member for communities, safety and justice
“This is a really exciting community project which could be a real lifeline for many residents struggling to make ends meet. The Food Stop will not only give them cheaper access to fresh food but also vital council support to improve their financial stability.
“We think the Food Stop – a community shop run by community organisations and the council in partnership – is a first for London. If it proves popular, perhaps it won’t be the last in the borough. I’d like to thank everyone from the community and the council who has worked together to make this amazing project happen.”