Behind the scenes at Goldthorpe’s Community Shop

PUBLISHED: 13:00 05 May 2014 | UPDATED: 18:48 07 June 2016

Vicky Tattershall, Jan Whittaker, Cheryl Churchill, Debbie Sewell and Sarah Dunwell at Goldthorpes Community Shop

Vicky Tattershall, Jan Whittaker, Cheryl Churchill, Debbie Sewell and Sarah Dunwell at Goldthorpes Community Shop

Joan Russell Photography

Could a bright new community shop mark the turning point for a former South Yorkshire pit village? Jo Haywood reports

Community Shop member Bev Owen with shop assistant Vicky TattershallCommunity Shop member Bev Owen with shop assistant Vicky Tattershall

Goldthorpe is not a prosperous place but it’s rich in community spirit.

The former mining village, which sits just off the A1 on the edge of Barnsley, was decimated in 1994 when the pit closed, leaving multiple generations without work and whole families on the bread line.

Twenty years later, life is still tough in this tight-knit community. Jobs are scarce, the high street is blighted with empty shops and there is a palpable lack of hope among residents so accustomed to poverty that unemployment and hunger are the seemingly inevitable conclusion of childhood.

But there is light at the end of what has been a very dark and very long tunnel. With the opening of a new Community Shop, 500 locals now have access to good food at cheap prices with great advice thrown in for free.

Launched as a social enterprise by Tankersley-based Company Shop, the UK’s largest commercial redistributor of surplus food and products, it’s the first of what the organisation hopes will be a long line of shops offering sustenance – in every sense – to hard-pressed communities.

‘We’re not here to solve an immediate crisis; food banks have that covered and do a very good job,’ explained Sarah Dunwell, director of social affairs at Company Shop. ‘We’re not just about providing cheap food for tea tonight, we’re here to work with our members long-term, to help them solve their wider problems, whether it’s putting together a CV, teaching them how to cook (Community Shop has a full-time chef) or building their confidence with mentoring.

‘You have to remember that food poverty is often just the tip of the iceberg. The causes are individual and complex. And we don’t want to create a culture of dependency. In fact, our ultimate aim is for our members not to need us anymore.’

The Community Shop, which reached the finals of the BBC Radio 4 Food & Farming Awards in the Best Initiative in British Food category, has won the support of big industry players like Asda, Morrisons, Marks & Spencer, Tesco and Ocado, who are all supplying surplus stock for the shelves at Goldthorpe.

All the food has been manufactured to a high standard but hasn’t made it to the supermarket shelves for a variety of reasons. Sometimes an ingredient has been missed out (Community Shop just adds a sticky label with the missing ingredient highlighted), the jar or package is unlabelled or the best before date is wrong.

‘Disposing of all this food, whether as animal feed or for composting, when there are hungry people out there is just wrong,’ said Sarah, who ran Create, a Leeds restaurant staffed by homeless people, until she was converted to the Community Shop cause by Company Shop founder John Marren.

‘People are struggling. They have to choose between eating and heating. But we’re very clear with our members: if all you want is cheap food then this is not the place for you. This is a place of growth and exploration; a place where people can change the way they live their lives.’

These changes begin in the Community Hub, a first floor cafe-cum-guidance-space above the shopfloor where members (numbers are currently capped at 500) are helped by a dedicated team of mentors.

‘There’s a real sense of disentitlement here,’ said Sarah. ‘It’s our job to tell them they are entitled to good food and a good life.

‘Hopefully, by the time they’ve completed the whole process here at Community Shop they’ll be in a much better place in their lives and will be able to shop at the big supermarkets just like everyone else. They are not going to shop here forever – and we wouldn’t want them to.’

Company Shop is committed to opening 20 more Community Shops in the coming months. It’s currently looking for its first store in London, backed by London Food Board, which is chaired by Rosie Boycott, Boris Johnson’s food advisor.

‘Retail space is very pricey, but bringing a Community Shop to London is a priority,’ said Sarah. ‘There will also be a concentration of shops around the Dearne Valley

‘Goldthorpe and its neighbours are very proud communities. But there is something soul-destroying about having to stretch your household budget to breaking point every day. We want to help them break that cycle once and for all.’

The member’s story

Community Shop member Bev Owen has been struggling to make ends meet since her husband died 14 years ago. He’d worked down the pit all his working life and found it impossible to cope once it closed. She’s currently on benefits and, after she’s paid all her bills, usually has around £11 to spend on food.

‘I’ve got five grandkids and I couldn’t even treat them to a can of pop before this place opened. Now I can treat them and bring them in to the craft classes in the Community Hub. They love it. They feel like they’re part of a club.

‘I suffer with my nerves and don’t usually go anywhere but I’m in here all the time. The Community Shop has really changed my life. I had my dinner here today - £1.80 for hot food and a drink; where else can you get that? But it’s not just about the food, for me it’s about meeting other people.

‘The staff here are lovely. They’ve helped me sort out my debts. I felt very lost for a while but I feel now that people are helping me.

‘It’s a very positive experience coming here – I always leave feeling better than when I arrive. We’ve had more than our fair share to deal with here; this feels like we’ve got a bit of a break at last.’

The mentor’s story

Community Hub mentor Kate Roberts has been involved in teaching and social projects in the Dearne Valley for 27 years. She was made redundant at the age of 60 and had set up her own health and wellness business when she was asked to become a guidance counsellor at the Community Shop.

‘I’ve worked with children and have then watched them grow up and have their own children. I feel as if I’ve had a hand in raising this community, and it was only the thought of working in the Dearne Valley again that brought me back.

‘There’s fourth generation unemployment here and it breaks my heart. The kids think they’re worth nothing. They think everything is pointless because they’ll never get a job. They’re good people, they just need a bit of help.

‘This project shows people that there are options. They can get a job and feed their families. The opportunities are out there. We need to make members of this community realise that they are worthy.

‘The Community Shop gives them food, but the Community Hub gives them nourishment. I tell people how lucky they are. No matter how many Community Shops open around the country, the one here in Goldthorpe will always be the flagship. No one can ever take that away from them.’

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