Pioneering London retail co-operative, The People’s Supermarket, has announced its ambition to open more stores following the success of its Holborn shop which opened two years ago.
Speaking at the launch of its Brick by Brick campaign in Hackney, co-founder and CEO Kate Bull, explained that the campaign was the next step for the business’ development, and aimed to raise £2.5 million. This would then be backed by the Big Society Bank, and enable the co-operative to open five new stores. “We need to raise money to support new sites to create a seed fund to get stores up and running, helping communities to be masters of their own People’s Supermarkets.”
Ms Bull said that the co-operative’s development had undoubtedly been helped by the ‘fly on the wall’ Channel 4 series which followed its development. “The TV series generated huge interest and led to an approach from Hackney Council and Viridian Housing Association to see if we might be interested in opening a store here.
“Viridian had recently built some new houses and also have a vacant commercial unit, which they are prepared to gift to us. They said they felt we could help to bring life and cohesion back into the area — cohesion which, following August’s riots had been lost.
“When we first saw the site, a large empty shell, it was very daunting and our initial reaction was ‘You must be joking’. But we agreed to carry out a consultation with local people to see how welcome we would be as we’ve always said we would only ever go where communities wanted us.
“The reaction was very positive and 500 people pledged their support. That gave us the confidence to decide that our next store should be here in Hackney.”
But interest in the supermarket isn’t limited to London. Firm inquiries have also been received from groups and organisations in Cardiff, Cornwall, Newcastle and Hull, as well as overseas interest from Spain.
Ms Bull says there is no reason why the success of Holborn cannot be replicated elsewhere. “What we’ve done has a global, universal appeal. People want to create their own economies and independence. Letting other people use the brand involves putting huge amounts of trust in people, but people don’t set out to get things wrong. We can help them by showing what has worked well for us and by highlighting mistakes we made so they aren’t repeated.
“In Holborn people are starting to eat more healthily as they have access to affordable, fresh produce; micro businesses are starting up and reported street crime on the street where the shop is, has fallen by 50 per cent.”
Looking forward to moving into Hackney, Ms Bull said that £1m was needed to kick start the store — but much of that could come through donated equipment, shop fittings and skills. “In return we would give 30 jobs plus training opportunities for around 1,000 people in the first year as well as starting to eat through food waste in the area.”
Welcoming the development on behalf of Hackney Council, Councillor Guy Nicholls said: “People in Hackney are incredibly excited about the possibility of The People’s Supermarket coming to their community. It is extraordinary to see the reputation that the business has.”
Also speaking at the launch event was the Holborn store’s greengrocer Nelson Araujo. He explained that he had been offered work at the co-operative in 2010 through the Future Jobs Fund. Following that he was kept on and offered a six month contract, gaining what he described as “great experience.”
When the co-operative advertised for a greengrocer Nelson decided to apply and was given the job. “The People’s Supermarket gave me a new start,” he explained. “I’ve really enjoyed it. The customers are all really kind and my work colleagues are like my new family. To me it doesn’t feel like a supermarket, it feels like a home.”
Those words have added significance when you discover that Nelson is actually homeless. Kate Bull said that Nelson’s story typified the co-operative’s ethos — helping to give people a chance.
“We’ve realised that our strength isn’t just in four walls. It’s in the people and in creating local economies and jobs that previously weren’t there. We are run by our members who come from a wide variety of backgrounds but who all pay £25 to join and then work for four hours a month in the store. They give their input into how the business should be run and they receive 20 per cent discount on purchases.”
Two members — Ann Daniels and Jean Fisher — gave their blessing to the Hackney development.
“The People’s Supermarket helps to turn constituencies into communities. It is an idea whose time has come,” said Ann, with Jean adding, “Good luck Hackney. You have a lot to look forward to.”
• Visit People's Supermarket online: www.thepeoplessupermarket.org