Pepys Social Supermarket is defined by the community that supports it, in their own words the shop is run by residents for residents. The food project follows a social supermarket model, where members living in the local area pay a weekly fee of £3.50 for a food package that would normally amount to £30.
They opened, as was always planned, on March 27th, but, what they did not originally plan for was opening during the first week of the nation’s formalised lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The pandemic shone a harsh light on the many gaps in our society’s provision for the vulnerable, but it also brought into focus the individuals and groups in our community that were willing to step up to redress these issues.
Lewisham Local visited Pepys Social Supermarket to see the amazing work the project does each Friday in providing for what quickly rose from 30 families to over 100.
The Employees and Volunteers
Stella is the beating heart of the Pepys Social Supermarket. When allergen labels are needed, Stella directs, when doorknobs need to be disinfected, Stella takes charge.
“We had 30 members and now we have 111 households, some of whom have up to 5 children who were off school and some are self-employed people who now have no income and people who are furloughed
“We have a whole range of food, with money from donors we are able to cater to lots of dietary needs, for example we buy Halal foods because a lot of the residents eat Halal foods and it is terrible when we have nothing to offer.
“The number of members rapidly rose from 30 to 144 so everything we do is really condensed. We have to move faster, moving customers through quickly, all while observing social distancing. Its a very rigid operation to get everybody through the door, into the hallway and out. The number has now decreased a little to 111 due to members being able to support themselves a little better.
“Each Thursday throughout the day we have a volunteers’ meeting where we look at the stock, what we are short of and what we might need to order. Sometimes a Covid mutual aid group will message us through Whatsapp asking what we specifically want and we tell them, usually by the end of the shopping day we know what we are short of.
“Despite all that sounding stressful, the supermarket is a happy place, we have a lady who dresses up specifically for her Friday visit. There are so many creatives on the estate so we have musicians come and play while members are shopping. Really, the social supermarket is not just about food, it is about engaging and empowering people through connecting them with their neighbours. The social side to the supermarket really shows when we are able to refer members’ problems on to Lewisham Homes, who have been amazing in donating an oven to a family in need and a laptop to another family to help a homeschooling child”
“Its been 7 weeks now that I have been volunteering now. I live down the road and am part of the local Labour group, I’ve had some dealings with the community centre and we were looking for ways to get involved, me and partner have basically been in lockdown since March 10th. I worked in food for many years so when they needed volunteers to deliver I did that, but now I have started helping with the packaging because to be honest I couldn’t carry the very heavy boxes!”
“I’ve been volunteering now since the beginning, back in March when it opened.
“Culturally specific food is very important, we have a lot of diversity around here. Fortunately we have money to specifically buy for food for vegans and those who eat Halal food. We have a lot of customers that don’t eat ready meals, so we also have fresh fruit and vegetables like yam, plantain and chocho”
Jane, a supermarket member, has lived in the Pepys Estate for 30 years. When asked if she had seen a change in the use of the community centre during the Coronavirus pandemic, she responded:
“This is such a valued project in the community because you know there’s a lot of people who are quite vulnerable and its really taken off. For me, I’ve had the virus, I really wasn’t well and they really helped me because they delivered food. I’m on my own so I would never have been able to get out to get any food. So its been brilliant”
“I hope it carries on, more and more people are hearing about it and using so it is obviously quite popular”
“Its the best thing they have done, this is helping a lot of families. It helps having all these different cultural foods, you have your yam and plantain, everything that you get from here you can use to make something, tomatoes, onions, eggs, if you’re a good cook, you’ve got breakfast, lunch and dinner.”
A major donor to the project is Action Against Hunger, who gave a £5000 award to help ensure that the supermarket members get fed, while Pepys themselves set up a Go Fund Me page which has so far raised just over £6000. Individuals also donate huge quantities of food, members of The Hillsong Church deliver around 100 – 150 kg of food and Jacqui Shimidzu from The Hill Station (a cafe who also have their very own food project ‘Feed The Hill‘) donated children’s books and teenage diaries and grocery supplies as well in two huge one off donations.
Food donations also come from GCDA who delivered meals to the project while restaurant chain Hawksmoor were regularly donating meals in Tupperware but are now donating ingredients. Hawksmoor are still completely committed to helping the project and are hoping to set up an apprenticeship scheme with young people from the area in their restaurants.
As well as all of the above donations, each week Richard Bell from The Bear Church in nearby Deptford delivers culturally specific food such as yams and plantain from the market to both social supermarkets at Pepys and Evelyn. We spoke with Richard about the donation process.
Richard Bell, The Bear Church:
“So, for us at The Bear Church, we had to stop doing our evening service (a weekly soup kitchen) due to the pandemic and we were looking at ways to continue dealing with food poverty in the area. We had a budget set aside for just that and we wanted to find an outlet for this money during the lockdown. We encouraged people in the congregation to give to The Bear with the money expressly earmarked for food poverty. In combination with this, Lewisham Local donates a considerable amount of money they receive from Merchant Taylors.
“So with the total we approached both Pepys and Evelyn Social Supermarkets and explained that we could buy, donate and deliver fresh fruit and vegetables for them from our existing connection with Phil at Deptford Market and asking whether that would work. We began the partnerships thinking we could only do a month and it has now been nearly six months! In short, I pay Phil from Deptford Market who delivers the food to The Bear Church, I then use my car to drive the food crates over to Evelyn and Pepys each Friday morning”
If you are feeling inspired to lend a hand volunteering at Pepys Social Supermarket or you would like to make a referral to become a supermarket member, you can do both by clicking here.
You can find Pepys Social Supermarket on Facebook and Twitter below: