How do we strengthen communities and safeguard people’s access to food, without compromising on dignity?
Churches, community groups and charities have been chewing over that question for years, but many are now finding an answer, in the approach of Your Local Pantry.
The Pantry network, coordinated by Church Action on Poverty, has grown rapidly in the past two years, from about 14 pantries pre-Covid to more than 75 today, supporting around 80,000 people.
One of the Pantries that opened during the pandemic is in north Leeds, where a multi-denominational church partnership is having a positive impact.
InterACT Church and Community Partnership is a charity made up of two Anglican churches, one United Reform Church, one Baptist Church and a Methodist Circuit in the Meanwood and Chapel Allerton neighbourhoods of Leeds. It had begun around the turn of the millennium as The Three Churches Project, but subsequently grew. It has coordinated a wide range of community work over the years, and the Pantry was a natural addition.
Pantries are laid out like regular shops but come in all shapes and sizes: in church buildings, community centres, libraries or shopping centres. InterACT’s is in a bright green converted shipping container outside Meanwood Community Centre.
Pantry members pay a small amount (typically £3.50 or £4), and in return, they can choose ten grocery items from the shelves, worth many times more. The projects thus retain dignity, choice and hope in ways that some other forms of food project cannot. Stock is sourced via the national redistribution charity FareShare, as well as local suppliers. Members who attend weekly often make savings reaching nearly £1,000 a year, but they also report improved physical and mental health, reduced isolation, new friendships and new community togetherness.
Vanessa Brown, InterACT’s community development project manager, says: “Churches working together is absolutely essential. In Leeds, many churches have made a conscious decision to work together and that’s the way of working we know now. People outside churches can’t understand why churches don’t work together more.
“It is often the activities away from Sunday worship that really bring churches together in the community. The Pantry has been an easy thing for everyone to get behind. It’s something that people really get. They understand why it’s there and we can serve the community using our different strengths together.”
James Henderson, national network coordinator for Your Local Pantry, says: “Pantries have been a great success story for dozens of neighbourhoods. They soften the blow of high living costs and create conditions conducive to community growth and inspiration, by bringing people together around food.
“The network has grown so rapidly because so many churches and community organisations have seen the difference they make and want to emulate that. There is enormous potential and dynamic ingenuity within communities, and Pantries are a way of harnessing that and opening up new opportunities.”
Find out more about setting up a Your Local Pantry or enquire by email to [email protected].