THE country’s first ‘social supermarket’ - which has helped thousands of Barnsley residents during times of need - recently marked its tenth birthday. Josh Timlin took a look at Community Shop’s invaluable impact in the communities it’s served and why it’s needed more than ever.

‘Food poverty’ was an unfamiliar term when John Marren - who opened his first corner shop in Pilley more than 50 years ago - and his team had an idea to help hungry residents who were in desperate need.

However a decade on and it’s become a known-to-everyone buzzword which describes the plight of many in Barnsley’s communities.

The shocking, record-breaking statistics of local families relying on foodbanks - which has seen hubs report a 50 per cent increase in demand since the pandemic - remains a huge issue, as is fuel poverty and the general cost of living which are chipping away at finances and crippling society’s worst-off people.

Having found success with Tankersley-based Company Shop - a redistribution service which continues to offer surplus food to people who work for the emergency services and army - the idea to reach those even more in need was born in the form of Community Shop.

It’s a far more bleak picture than when Community Shop opened its doors to its first customers in December 2013, something I was there to witness as a young reporter, but the impact it’s made has been phenomenal and it’s been rolled out elsewhere as a result, always using the first shop as a shining example.

Its ethos is a simple one: big-name retailers have items which are perishable so instead of them being cast aside as the sell-by date approaches, they’re redistributed and offered to means-tested Company Shop users who can then save the difference.

It solves two major issues: food poverty and food waste but more importantly it gives back to those who need it the most - since its opening, it’s supported 4,643 local families in that ten-year period, with members having saved over £9m.

What’s more, the knock-on impact of that has seen a Community Kitchen add-on service, which has resulted in millions more meals being made for hungry locals.

Owen McLellan, managing director, said: “It is a real honour to be marking and celebrating the incredible impact that Community Shop has achieved.

“It is reflective of the hard work of our colleagues and the immense goodwill and commitment of the wider industry to combatting food waste and food poverty in a sustainable and community-led way.

“We have high ambitions for the years ahead and we hope to work with even more businesses and organisations as we bring our mission of building stronger individuals and more confident communities through surplus to life.”

There’s a host of locations now - in Beechwood, Warrington, Scarborough, Grimsby, Halton, Kirkdale, Knottingley, Lambeth, Leicester and Bradford - all of which owe a great deal to Goldthorpe’s venue.

A second Barnsley store in Athersley opened, too, given the demand and John’s connection to the town which started it all.

John added: “I’m so proud to be a part of the food industry and to be a partner to the many retailers and brands working so hard to deliver a more sustainable future for our sector.

“Our business has grown and changed a lot since I opened our first store, but our fantastic team are living and breathing the same values as on day one - doing the right thing and aiming for the extraordinary.

“Today, more than ever, we are called to address the climate emergency, build our economy and support our communities.”

Evidence shows that up to nine million people in the UK struggle to eat, while 250,000 tonnes of food is wasted every year - at a time when bills are sky-high and foodbank reliance is more prominent than ever, this is nothing short of scandalous.

The Community Shop initiative is playing its own valuable part in going some way to address this - surplus stock is a common occurrence within the food manufacturing and retail process and the team provides a simple, hugely beneficial alternative for the food industry to landfill.

Gary Stott, executive chairman at Community Shop, said: “I am incredibly proud of the journey and all that we have accomplished over the past decade, having made a bold and brave decision to do something very different to what had been done before.

“We know the need for Community Shop’s work is stronger than ever and there is much more to do.

“Alongside our partners and supporters, we remain as committed as we did on day one to constantly transforming what affordable and dignified food access looks like and we will be continuing our efforts to bring more of our Community Shops to many more families across the UK who need them most.

“We have a huge amount of thanks to give to everyone who has supported us during the last ten years, including our supporters, our generous industry partners, and the communities we’re so proud to work in.

“But most importantly we thank our incredible Community Shop colleagues and members who work alongside us every day to deliver such transformative impact.”

John Healey, who represents the Wentworth and Dearne constituency, is absolutely right when he says the current picture - as bleak as it’s been - would be much worse without Community Shop’s input.

“Over the last ten years the Community Shop has helped thousands of people locally when they needed it most.

“The shop provides families and individuals’ with a way to make their budgets go further at a time when the cost of living is so tight.

“Thank you to everyone involved in the project for making such a huge impact on people’s lives - I’m proud that our store in Goldthorpe led the way for others across the country a decade ago.”