Saving on supermarket bills - and fostering community
North End Baptist Church in Portsmouth closed its foodbank and opened a pantry after wanting to help people access food more cheaply - and the benefits have gone beyond the pocket
North End Baptist Church in Portsmouth ran a foodbank which had supported around 10,000 people in the five years up to 2020. When the pandemic struck the level of local need soared.
Covid changed the way the team worked, but it also prompted some reflection. Was this the right approach, or was there another way?
'For many years we've ran a foodbank here, so we were aware that there was food poverty and food insecurity in our local community,' explains minister Tracy Ansell.
'We wanted to do something about that to help people access food more cheaply.'
Jo Green, a church volunteer, takes up the story, 'We spoke to schools and other organisations. They were telling us they had families who needed help but who would not go to a foodbank because of the stigma. It made us wonder what we could do.
'Our minister, Tracey, knew someone who ran a pantry and we looked at a couple, and decided that becoming a pantry was the way forward.'
The Your Local Pantry network
, coordinated by Church Action on Poverty, is supporting local churches and other partners in more than 70 neighbourhoods around the UK. That number is growing all the time.
The model is simple. Anyone who lives in a neighbourhood served by one can join. Members pay a small weekly subscription of a few pounds, and in return they can choose around £20 to £25 a week of groceries from the stock on the shelves.
It’s a shop in all but name, but members can save the best part of £1,000 a year compared to supermarket prices.
As well as more affordable food, pantries are inclusive and foster relationships as members can shop there each week. People may join for the financial savings, or to help reduce food waste (in the above video Tracey explains how the church works with Fareshare to access excess supermarket food destined for landfill.) They might want to support a local initiative or for the friendship, and nobody need know which it is. The benefits are vast, says Jo, one of the pantry managers at North End.
'We closed our foodbank at the start of April 2021, and three weeks later we opened as a pantry.
'The stigma has certainly reduced. We have a lot of families now and we are finding that people really value it more because they are paying towards it.'
One pantry member spoke about relational benefits of being a member. 'It helps our food budget go further, which in turn leads to less stress. Also, there’s a social side to it. There’s a group of us who always meet up now, we go to pantry together, have a brew together, we’ve become great friends, and we’re from three different generations. That’s great for people’s mental wellbeing!'
Jo adds, 'We want to reach people in the area and build relationships. With a pantry, people come back every week and start opening up and you hear how much it means to people.
'We are a church so we can direct people in the church to the pantry, and also let pantry members know about other things like the toddler groups.'