Wolverhampton Council Leader Ian Brookfield cut the ribbon at Big Venture’s community shop on Tuesday and encouraged people from across the city to take advantage of what is proving to be an ‘essential local service’.
Located at the Big Venture Centre in Chesterton Road, people can join as members for just £5 per year and will immediately receive a free bag of shopping and then the ability to buy food, toiletry and other products at a much-reduced rate.
The aim is to ensure an average family of four can feed themselves for approximately £30 to £40 per week, with the community shop benefitting from the support of Wolverhampton Council, Wolves Foundation, His Church and donations of surplus items from Sainsbury’s, Marks & Spencer, Aldi and Lidl.
Just eight weeks on from its trial opening it has more than 350 members registered, with 50 new members joining every week as word spreads about the initiative.
“The Bushbury Hill, Low Hill and Scotlands area falls within the second most deprived ward in Wolverhampton and is ranked within the top four per cent most deprived areas across the country,” said Karen Trainer, Big Centre volunteer manager and a recent recipient of an MBE in the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Honours list.
“With the cost of living going through the roof, there is an increasing need for us to support local people with more imaginative projects that allows them to provide for their families and avoid the stigma that can sometimes be associated with food banks.
“Our new community shop is one of those solutions and has been a long time in the making – but the wait has been worth it and the impact we are having so far means we are helping 1,000 people every week gain access to food and essential products that previously would have been outside of their budgets.
“We’ve also had a really good response from some of the big supermarkets and local producers and would urge anyone interested in donating surplus stock to get in touch with us.”
The community shop, which is open 9.30am to 2.30pm Monday through to Thursday, late night Wednesdays and 9.30am to 12.30pm on Fridays, is staffed by a 10-strong team of volunteers from the Big Venture Centre.
It is the latest in a long line of initiatives that the organisation has launched to help feed families and comes on the back of the hugely successful ‘Life After the Foodbank’ project and the WV10 Budget Cookbook.
Members will benefit from access to free cooking classes to gain new skills and to learn how to cook healthily, whilst the 82-page publication gives plenty of creative ideas on how to make nutritious food on a budget.
Councillor Brookfield said: “As we all know with this cost of living crisis, things are going to get worse before they get better.
“I did not go to the Big Venture Centre to celebrate the fact that community shops and food banks are needed in society. I despair that this is happening in modern Britain and I will celebrate the day that they all close because people can afford to make ends meet.
“However, I went there to recognise and celebrate the people of this community, the volunteers who are true champions out there doing superb work to help people cope with these hard times.
“The council is working in partnership with the Big Venture Centre to run this shop and we want to do as much as we can to help the people of the city. So in conjunction with other voluntary groups out there, we are looking to open another six or seven of these community shops around the city in the coming weeks and months.”
The opening of the community shop coincided with Big Venture Centre also marking its fifth birthday.
It has come a long way since its launch in 2017 and has gone from strength to strength after becoming part of the WV10 Consortium, an umbrella organisation that aims to empower small grassroots volunteer-led community groups.
In addition to Big Venture Centre, WV10 also comprises Bushbury Hill Community Action Group, Bushbury Hill Estate Management Board, Park Village Education Centre, Stratton Street Methodist Church Community Centre, the Scotlands & Bushbury Hill Partnership and the Women & Families Resource Centre (WFRC).
WV10 Consortium’s Louisa Edwards said: “We are so proud of the impact Big Venture has had on the area and highlights what can be achieved when we act as a collective to leverage and deliver funding.
“During Covid-19, we provided over 10,000 parcels to families across WV10, 8100 activity packs to young children and made 2650 calls to support those in need.
"We’re not stopping there and our community shop will help to address the rise in living costs and ensure more local people do not fall into food poverty.”