Breadline Voices: Food hub supporting families reports 1,650% rise in users

Our Food Club in Ramsgate

By Sharon Goodyer

When Sharon Goodyer set up a shop offering healthy food at cheap prices in Ramsgate 200 families signed up. Five years later in the aftermath of the Covid pandemic and subsequent cost of living crisis that number has risen to 3,500 and she's opened another shop in Margate in an attempt to meet growing demand.

"One day on the local Loop bus I overheard a conversation that changed my direction in life. A mother asked her children quietly if they would like to know what was for dinner. We all leant forward to listen. She told them 'hot dogs, alphabet potato and scotch pancakes’. Everyone on the bus let out a sigh of despair and I got off and went back to the shop to buy that meal. It turned out she had used every special offer available to feed her family for 50p a head.

"I had a lightbulb moment, seeing immediately what that mother needed - advice and friendship - and a food shop, not stocked with Cola, crisps, chocolate bars and processed meals but a place where local farms, food producers and artisan manufacturers could reach customers who needed them at a better price, a genuine welcome and desire to help and support.

"It took nearly four years of hard determined work to achieve this after doing a lot of pop up activities to learn about the area, the needs of the community and the resources available. We started in 2017. The aim was to feed children and families better food more affordably. We started with 200 families when we opened – now we have 3,500 registered.

"We want people to eat more fruit and vegetables so we make it a sensible, easy choice therefore in the middle of each of our shops is a collection of tables pilled with fruit and vegetables. You take a carrier bag, you choose what you want, which is really important, and you pay a £1 for this full bag of food. We also manage to offer quite a lot of free food. Today we've got free tomatoes, free cucumbers and free cauliflowers – you can't get better than that!

The meal made up of special offers the mum bought for her children
The meal made up of special offers a mother ended up buying her children 

"There is no Coca Cola, there's no KitKat and there are no crisps and just an example, do you know some children's yoghurts are nearly 13% sugar? We got meringues in one day from FairShare so I put my own sugar tax on them and charged an absolutely fortune. If you were going to buy meringues you were going to have to pay a fortune, but our customers took it in the spirit it was offered.

“Our cohort is changing. Everybody is getting desperate. Personally, I used to be able to cover my bills from my pension. It’s looking a bit dubious now. If the gas and electricity take their chunk out at the wrong time of the month, I’ll go hungry for a few days.

“We’re not singling out the poor and impoverished to feel sorry for themselves. People don't lead their lives in that way. We are singling out all those people who think they have a right to buy a healthier diet, who care about what they eat.

All my families are not necessarily the poorest in society. This is about the right of everybody to have a decent diet, to afford it, to know what it means. We're very cheap, we're very friendly; we've lots of good food and lots of advice, but the prices we charge have gone up a bit in order to make it financially sustainable because the Covid grants have long gone.

"The work we are doing is government work really, we ought not to have to do it."

This is part of Breadline Voices, a series from The Food Foundation highlighting the realities faced by millions of families plunged into food and fuel poverty as food prices reach a 40-year high.

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