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Can a new food outlet in Lockleaze make quality food more affordable?

Words: Kitty Webster
Photo: Gabriel Gilson

There are a growing number of shops and cafes in Bristol offering locally sourced, sustainable food. But in the less wealthy areas of the city there is consistently little choice, meaning that decent and nutritious food is often out of reach.

“…to be a success then a real sense of ownership over the whole project will have to be created.”

Hoping to change this, a new community food shop has opened in Lockleaze, the sixth most deprived ward in Bristol. Part of a new social enterprise set up by the nearby North Bristol Advice Centre, Buzz Community Food Shop sells an impressive range of groceries as well as smoothies and hot drinks.

I buy a pot of tea and sit down outside to chat with David, the shop manager and only paid member of staff. In this particular neighbourhood, with around 11,000 households, there isn’t a shop that sells high quality, unprocessed food that people can afford; “We’re offering healthy, affordable food to see if people want that option around here”, David explains.

More than just a shop?

Providing a place where people can buy fresh food is one thing, but people also need access to information about food and practical cooking skills. Part of the work of the Buzz shop will be about providing education about food and sharing knowledge about healthy eating.

“We’re going to be doing events and nutrition workshops”, says David, “and we’re also looking at putting together some free, simple recipes to hand out in the shop.”

There are even hopes to provide a veg box scheme in the future providing food to people that can’t physically get to the shop, such as the local sheltered housing project.

David’s commitment is humbling. Yet so far the community have had little involvement in the process of opening and planning the shop.

David explains,

“just being here to physically staff the shop means I just don’t have the capacity to do everything I want to in order to reach out to the the local churches, the schools, the local youth clubs.”

For now word of mouth appears to be working, but to be a success then a real sense of ownership over the whole project will have to be created. As I walk across the square I ask someone what they thought about the shop. “It’s nice, but we don’t need a coffee bar, we need an affordable supermarket”.

Quality and quantity?

Sourcing local, affordable and quality food is a central objective of the shop, but not without difficulties. “I’ve had to put my organic principles on the shelf”, David quietly tells me, “as people really just can’t pay for that.” Yet the slow but steady uptake is encouraging.

This question of affordability is a key concern, but isn’t the overriding factor.  A cup of tea over the road in the cafe is only £1, but in Buzz a pot of tea is £1.50. “We’re not necessarily pound for pound cheaper but when you see the quality that we’re offering you can tell people expect it to be more expensive than it is. It’s about giving people quality goods without paying through the nose for it”.

Won’t this mean that those who can’t afford the extra won’t be welcome? David has considered this; ‘We’re also toying with the idea of a different pricing method, like means testing, so that people who can afford to pay a bit more can help us discount prices for those that can’t.”

That is an innovative idea. As David puts it, “people who have less of an income than others shouldn’t receive less quality than others. That might be the case in the society that we live in but that is one of the things that we’re attempting to challenge.”

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