A volunteer-led community shop in Brixton is offering members a weekly choice of 20 healthy food items for £5.
Every Thursday, customers at the Southwyck Pantry can choose ten items of fresh fruit and veg and ten cupboard items donated by supermarkets and other food suppliers.
Unlike food banks, the pantry model offers customers the opportunity to choose their items based on what they like to cook with and eat.
The pantry is run by Lambeth-based non-profit organisation Healthy Living Platform.
Their CEO and Director Kate Bull said: “The strength of this model is the dignity of people being able to say ‘I don’t need this today, I actually need X, Y, Z’.
“This is about helping that community find their voice and say what they want.
“Our ambition is to say we’re using food to address an immediate need, but we’re also using it to address and access the wider issues affecting that community.”
The pantry is run in partnership with Metropolitan Thames Valley Housing (MTVH), which offered Moorlands Community Centre as the Southwyck Pantry’s current venue.
Emildah Chabata, Regional Manager for Community Involvement for MTVH, said: “We noticed the proximity of food insecurity to where we were based.
“So MTVH was happy to provide the venue as well as funding to Healthy Living Platform for those that could not afford the £5, because we knew there was a need in the community we serve.”
Moorlands Community Centre includes a large community hall for members to share teas, coffees and cakes and a large garden area which is free for members to use between 11am – 4pm.
Members also have access to services such as benefits advice, literacy or computer skills development or mental health services, with the aim of meeting the specific demand of the community.
Additional community need was another reason MTVH were pleased to offer the new venue.
Chabata added: “If you’re dealing with food insecurity, it usually means there are lots more issues so we want to offer all services under one roof.”
Healthy Living Platform’s Community Programmes Manager Helen Wiggings stressed the importance of skills development through the pantry model.
She said: “The assets within our community is what makes this an asset based approach.
“In our community, people are skilled, they’re committed, and it’s really just facilitating accessing these skills.”
Some members might take part in more formal skills development, such as the Food Ambassador programme facilitated by the Healthy Living Platform in partnership with LEAP Lambeth.
This is a free training course offered to volunteers to develop the skills and confidence to cook healthy and affordable food and gain a Food Hygiene Level 2 Certificate.
Deeba Kauser has been a volunteer at the pantry for a year and completed the six week course.
She enjoyed being creative with recipes that included no meat or frying, and people sharing food and techniques from their own countries.
Kauser said: “Before the pantry, I didn’t really eat much fruit and veg and having the choice has definitely encouraged me to cook healthier.
“But basic needs are too expensive. People even struggle to pay the £5 and I think it’s going to get even busier and people will rely on the pantry more.”
As the cost of living crisis worsens, the demand for provisions like the pantry model are likely to increase.
The Southwyck Pantry is one of four pantries being run in south west London and Bull stressed the ability for the model to be replicated.
As well as the potential to expanding geographically, existing pantries will work towards becoming self-sustaining with the aim of allowing the community to continue running itself.
Bull noted that this will not always be the case, and even hoped that some pantries will not need to continue serving their communities.
She added: “At the end, if the community doesn’t want it, you could then say it’s served it’s need.”
Southwyck Pantry is open every Thursday between 11am-4pm at Moorland Community Centre.
Go to healthylivingplatform.org to find your nearest pantry.