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Social supermarket helping to feed Chelmsford families

People sorting food

A pop-up community supermarket is helping money go further to feed local families.

Chelmsford’s first pop-up ‘social supermarket’ launched in Ford End earlier this year. It supports low-income families who are struggling to find the money to put sufficient food on the table.

Shoppers pay £5 for a bag of groceries and receive £20–30 worth of food. An additional pop-up social supermarket will launch in Melbourne later in August.

The beginnings of Chelmsford’s social supermarket    

The project was born out of a need identified by Chelmsford Food Alliance – a collection of charities across Chelmsford who supply food to those who need it. They wanted to alleviate the pressures being put on local food banks. Chelmsford has a successful Trussell Trust Food Bank, but it’s designed for times of crisis rather than ongoing support for those on low budgets.

Ruth Pierce is a Community Organiser, employed by St Francis Community Church, who led the way in creating the pop-up supermarket in Chelmsford.

“I’ve been involved since the beginning and am responsible for getting it off the ground and working out the logistics. Our tagline is to offer ‘a helping hand with your weekly shop’. We are not a supermarket and the items available will vary from week to week. We cannot guarantee the things you like or want but we will send you away with a bag of basics (and some treats sometimes) worth between £20–30 for just £5. We hope it takes the sting out of the weekly shop.”

Ruth Pierce, Community Organiser

Before launching the social supermarket, Ruth worked closely with the Chelmsford Food Alliance and Essex County Council to research the best locations for Chelmsford’s pop-up supermarkets, as well as the level and type of help required by people accessing charity food services. The research showed people living more rurally spend more money on transport to access food, which impacts already tight budgets.

It became clear what was most needed was a mobile community social supermarket that can travel close to where people live, rather than restricted to one central location. The pop-up supermarket is currently in Ford End, and launches in Melbourne on 22 August.    

How to find the pop-up supermarket

  • Ford End Village Hall (Main Road, Ford End, Chelmsford, CM3 1LQ), 9–11am every Tuesday  
  • Melbourne (St Andrews Church Hall, Chignal Road, CM1 2JB), 2–4pm on Tuesdays, launching 22 August 2023  

Teas, coffees, and a warm welcome are readily provided by volunteers. Those who can’t access the pop-up supermarket on foot can book a DigiGo vehicle for £2.

The pop-up social supermarket operates on a membership basis. On the first visit, shoppers receive a bag which acts as their membership card and must be brought along on each visit. The first week costs £10 which covers the membership sign-up and first week’s shopping. From then on, it’ll cost £5 each visit.  

Councillor Lynne Foster, Chelmsford City Council’s Cabinet Member for a Fairer Chelmsford is pleased the project is able to help those that need it:

“People are experiencing food insecurity and the local food banks are running out of supplies and under real strain. The pop-up social supermarket in Chelmsford is a great initiative which aims to not only support people struggling to put food on the table to access the food they require, but also to give them dignity and choice.”

Councillor Lynne Foster, Chelmsford City Council Cabinet Member for a Fairer Chelmsford

Funding for the pop-up supermarkets

Funding for the project has come from the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF) and Feeding Britain. Chelmsford City Council facilitated the UKSPF grant of £20,000 which was spent on purchasing an old supermarket van to transport food, amongst other things. The project was also awarded a further £17,000 from Feeding Britain.

Essex County Council, Councillor John Spence and St Francis Community Church have also contributed towards costs, including staffing, to make the project happen.

The volunteers involved are hopeful it will serve those who need it most and grow into more locations. Further funding will be needed for ongoing costs to keep the pop-up supermarket sustainable.

Additional grant funding programmes 

Chelmsford City Council has several grants available to help communities and businesses prosper, including the Discretionary Fund grant and the Greener Chelmsford grant. Find out more about available community funding schemes.

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Charlotte Maltby
Charlotte Maltby

Charlotte writes about the environment, parks, recycling, business, planning, public realm and democratic services.