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Roots Community Store Opens In Wokingham

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Wokingham Borough’s first community pantry opens its doors this week. Roots Community Store has been set up to run from Norreys Church in Wokingham to help residents who can’t afford a full, healthy diet.

Roots Community Store in Wokingham
Photo credit – Stewart Turkington/Wokingham Borough Council

The membership-based store has been set up and is being jointly run by SHARE WokinghamWokingham Foodbank and First Days Children’s Charity. The seed funding of £32,000 needed to set the store up was provided by Wokingham Borough Council through its Hardship Fund.

Roots will offer low cost food, including fresh fruit and vegetables, to prevent customers from needing to access emergency food provision, support healthy food choices and positive health outcomes.

It will initially be launched as a pilot during the next few weeks to ensure its processes and procedures work.

Fifty households who already use services from the organisations involved will be used for this.

Customers will pay a £5 per week membership fee which allows them about £25 of goods each week. This provides a top up to regular shopping. The organisations involved have worked together to get it up and running. SHARE provided the location, while Wokingham Foodbank has set up the membership structure. Both are supporting with ongoing stock and supplies for the pantry.

First Days has managed the project, as well as providing staff to run the pantry now the doors are open.

Emma Cantrell, CEO at First Days Children’s Charity, said: “It’s been a huge team effort to get this set up in recent months with all three organisations pulling together to get this open as quickly as possible once funding was awarded in the autumn.

“Demand for support for this type of service in the borough has grown in recent years with food hardship increasing. The pantry provides a way for people who are struggling to get higher value for a small membership contribution.”

The community store has seen transformation during the last three months in an area at Norreys Church by SHARE to provide a home for the pantry. Although Roots is the borough’s first pantry they are available across the country. They provide groceries at a lower cost than supermarkets or shops, as well as helping to reduce food waste.

SHARE redistributes 40 tonnes of food from local supermarkets and food suppliers that would otherwise go to waste each week. The Community Pantry provides a range of fresh fruit and vegetables, fridge and freezer items as well as, foods with a longer shelf life including pasta, tins and cereal.

A range of toiletries and cleaning items will also be on offer. There will be limits for how many items of each type a household can take each week. Claire Revie, founder of SHARE, said: “Since SHARE has become established we’ve wanted to find the next way we can support our communities.

“The community store gives members the ability to choose what they want to use their money on and what’s most important for them and their household. It also gives us another way to help with our goals for reducing food waste locally.”

The community store provides a step between emergency food provision such as foodbanks, and being back on your feet. The pantry is a sustainable option for residents experiencing food insecurity. It means services like the foodbank can focus on people in acute crisis rather than providing ongoing help, which has become more common due to the cost of living crisis.

Annette Medhurst, manager at Wokingham Foodbank, said: “We’ve seen a huge increase in demand to the foodbank for support in recent years due to the rising cost of food and other essentials. Households across the country are facing the biggest income squeeze in a generation.

“Due to this situation some people have understandably become reliant on getting help repeatedly. The pantry will offer these people a way to get higher value for the money for what they put it. The foodbank will still be there for those with urgent needs in a crisis but Roots will provide a better route for support for many.”

The project is also being supported by Wokingham Lions, which is helping to manage collection of stock. Citizens Advice Wokingham will be able to refer residents into the project.

Once the project is up and running successfully, its offer will be scaled up to help more people. This includes a mobile store and support in other areas of the borough. Cllr Rachel Bishop-Firth, executive member for equalities, inclusion and fighting poverty, said: “Our £250,000 Hardship Fund was established for projects exactly like this.

“Thanks to the work of the voluntary and community sector, the seed funding from Wokingham Borough Council has been turned into an asset which can support our community for years to come and deliver benefits worth many times the value of the initial investment.

“All the organisations involved already make a huge difference to residents who are struggling in difficult times. They have come together to offer even more help to those who need it most and we look forward to seeing Roots Community Pantry’s progress and potential expansion to help even more people.”

Details on the ramping up of the project and opening up of memberships will be published in due course. These projects are informed by the borough’s Tackling Poverty Strategy. Roots Community Pantry was seed funded through the council’s £250,000 Hardship Fund.

Projects to help with improving access to low/no cost uniform and a project to make the school day affordable for all have also been funded. Funding for other projects will be announced in the spring.

This strategy and fund aims to support people out of poverty, strengthen community resilience to prevent people falling into poverty and improving life opportunities for those living in poverty. 

All the latest cost of living help and advice for the borough can be found on the cost of living help hub.