Co-operation Sees off Closure for the People’s Supermarket

When you hear the words ‘The People’s Supermarket’ you may well be racking your brains to work out which one of the Big Four this refers to. Let me assure you it is none of them.

When you hear the words ‘The People’s Supermarket’ you may well be racking your brains to work out which one of the Big Four this refers to. Let me assure you it is none of them. It really is The People’s Supermarket, (TPS) which began trading in June 2010, in Holborn, London as a sustainable food co-op that is run and owned by members of the community. It functions for the social and environmental benefit of this local community and is not in pursuit of profit. It has been recognised nationally and internationally for community cohesion, job creation, provision of work and training, solutions to food waste and ethical remodelling of the food supply chain. These efforts saw it winning various awards including the Local Retailer Award in the Observer Ethical Awards 2011. 

It was sad then to read last month that this ground-breaking community project and social enterprise was in danger of closure due to debts that it owed Camden Council. As TPS doesn’t currently benefit from any rate relief it is charged with the same amount of tax that any of the Big Four would be charged with in the same unit. However despite recently meeting benchmark figures to break even, working with other creditors to delay paying some debts and fulfilling its payments to HMRC it does have business rate debts to the Council and this was looming as a dark cloud of closure over the enterprise. Unless they could be renegotiated the TPS was facing closure. Not only was this the end of 23 in-store jobs but local and small suppliers who benefited from the TPS as a retail outlet in central London would also lose business. John Levitt a local resident said, ‘Seeing our supermarket close will mean another empty shop on the high street.’

TPS were not prepared to take this lying down and launched an online petition which within two days had reached over a thousand signatures. The publicity saw them getting donations from abroad as well as this country in excess of £7,000 and then the kiss of life arrived in the shape of an unsecured loan from Fredericks Foundation for £20,000. This meant TPS could clear their debts to the Council and closure was no longer on the cards.

Why did it come so close to closure? The answer lies probably in what makes it such a worthwhile venture. It is run by hundreds of volunteer members and has engaged citizens from all generations and backgrounds. They have created a home-grown community centre operating as a waste-free and democratic supermarket. Being a new and growing enterprise it has not been easy to deal with the finances.  Camden Council too has had the squeeze put on them from the government cuts with 45% of their central government funding being taken from them; they were hardly in a position to help with the debts. As one member, Elliot Bannister, said at the time, ‘We’re not asking for funding from them, all we need is more time to pay back our debts. It’s about co-operation.’ Fortunately it was donators and the Frederick Foundation that co-operated to keep this project going.

Another donation which has helped the supermarket go from strength to strength was that of an ex-demonstration domestic kitchen, along with crockery, appliances, cutlery and work surfaces back in 2010. The People’s Kitchen was installed at the back of the sales floor with the idea to ‘create healthy nutritious, ready meals’ for customers to buy and eat at home. The ingredients used are from the range in store and where possible they use those close to their sell by dates to avoid as much waste as possible. Demand for The People’s Food is so high that they sell out on a daily basis. The kitchen has helped create jobs as well as seen TPS benefit commercially. The project also has been approached to provide outside catering for businesses – including breakfasts.

The TPS can be found at 72-78 Lamb’s Conduit Street, London and is open Monday to Saturday 8am – 10pm and Sunday 10am – 9pm.