Northern Ireland's first 'social supermarkets' to open

Image source, Stephen Latimer
Image caption,
The Apex Living Centre in Derry will house one of five social supermarkets. Pictured are Catherine Lusby, manager, Gerry Kelly, CEO of Apex and food bank volunteer James McMenamin

The first 'social supermarkets' are to open in Northern Ireland to help people living in food poverty.

Five community organisations will operate the shops, in Londonderry, Belfast, Coleraine, Lisburn and Strabane.

The supermarkets will sell cheaper than usual products to people receiving welfare payments and tax credits.

The Department for Communities (DfC) has provided funding of about £70,000 to each of the five shops.

Catherine Lusby, from Apex Housing Association, will manage the Londonderry supermarket.

"In our social supermarket, The Apex Food Club, we are asking members to pay £5 membership on a weekly basis

"For that they will receive £25 worth of food."

Within the pilot scheme, supermarket customers will be able to purchase a range of cheaper products including fresh and frozen food, dried goods, as well as fruit and vegetables.

Stock is supplied via food charity Fareshare, an organisation who distribute surplus food from mainstream supermarkets, suppliers and manufacturers to charities.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
The members only social supermarkets will give customers access to a range of cheaper than usual products

Customers will also agree to take part in a range of skill-building programmes including money management, cooking and personal development.

Ms Lusby said the initiative is designed to empower customers and move people out of food poverty.

She will coordinate the Derry supermarket, a city where last year more than 3,000 people accessed help from a food bank.

"Food poverty is not a lifestyle choice, people want to help themselves and this is a soft place for them to fall and work to address the situation they have found themselves in," she added

"It is very separate from food banks. We are aiming to really help people improve their social and emotional well-being."

The Footprints Women's Centre in Belfast, Lisburn City Church, Strabane Community Project and Vineyard Compassion in Coleraine will operate the four other supermarkets

A DfC spokeswoman said the supermarket scheme will give people "access to food on condition that they take up the other services that will help them move out of poverty".

"All members of the Social Supermarkets will be asked to complete entry and exit questionnaires to track the impact of their involvement with the project.

"The success of the pilot will be assessed against the objectives of helping people move out of poverty. Learning from the pilot projects will inform the decision on whether to continue with Social Supermarkets beyond September 2018."

The first supermarket will open to customers in February.