The Panty @AshtonThe Pantry @Ashton is an example of a community supermarket that aims to provide support for individuals and local North Belfast families.
The Pantry @Ashton
What is the Pantry?
The Pantry @Ashton is an example of a community supermarket that aims to provide support for individuals and local North Belfast families experiencing food insecurity as well as other issues stemming from the cost of living crisis.
The Pantry model differs from traditional food banks in that it doesn’t just provide access to food or other essential goods but works to implement a multi service approach. For example, in addition to shopping for weekly groceries Pantry users can avail of additional support from trained mentors and develop skills in budgeting, debt management, cooking, meal preparation and nutrition.
Tailored Welfare Benefits Audit
Each Pantry user will also be eligible for a tailored welfare benefits audit as well as a debt assessment session and once they have completed the 12 week programme can be retained as a Pantry volunteer.
The Pantry is being delivered by the Ashton Centre but the model has been developed with financial input and support from the Lower North Belfast Family Support Hub, Fairshare NI, Belfast Charitable Society, North Belfast Advice Partnership, the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and the Communities in Transition programme. It has also brokered further support from private donations which are able to sponsor families directly or designated shelves in the Pantry itself.
Sponsor a Pantry Member
You too can also sponsor a Pantry member family or shelf by telephoning 028 9074 2255 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Every £1 you invest will create a benefit of £2.24 in personal income, saving food waste and improving opportunities for users.
How does it work?
Rather than just offer a food handout the Pantry aims to better understand and tackle underlying factors that are creating food insecurities as well as support individuals so they can respond more effectively to the wider cost of living crises.
The Pantry is operated via membership programme with a weekly fee of £5 which enables a member to receive approximately £40 worth of grocery items and other cleaning or hygiene products.
After 12 weeks and on completion of the programme, users can transition into a volunteer role and continue to avail of the same weekly shop for £10 per week. Members access the Pantry at a pre arranged time and engage in an informal meeting with the Pantry co ordinator. They can then complete their shopping and can select items based on a colour coded system that corresponds to their retail value.
All members who regularly attend the Pantry will also engage with one of the capacity building and support programmes that will be introduced by the mentor. They also undertake an external income maximization and debt assessment session with an external benefits advisor.
Collectively this additional participation will identify the underlying factors that are negatively impacting on the users’ circumstances and work to provide them with the tools to create positive outcomes for themselves and their families.
What the members of the Pantry think
“It was a great all round experience, and the staff were so helpful listening to my problems. You were able to get a lot of food for your money and I was shocked that even branded items of food were included in my shopping basket”
“Access to the Pantry has helped to relieve a lot of stress, allowed me to save money and buy more things to help support my daughter”
“I left my last job in March and found it really hard having no income and 3 children to feed. If it wasn’t through the help I received through the Pantry I would have really struggled”
“I have loved coming to the Pantry every week. It has been really helpful, especially the budgeting training which has helped with rising costs and allowed me to put more money aside to cover my gas and electricity bills”
“I have been able to feed my 2 kids and myself for the past 12 weeks and I feel like I have not let them down. The referrals made as a result of talking to the mentor also had a really positive impact”
“Being a member of the Pantry has allowed me to provide several meals for my family during each week but has also encouraged me to try new ingredients, recipes and produce I wouldn’t normally use”
A Community Response to Crisis
Further to providing members with access to affordable food as well as relevant services and support, the Pantry is being harnessed as part of a broader community effort led by the Ashton Centre to help tackle the cost of living crisis Through engagement with the staff team, Pantry members have been signposted to other community initiatives that might have a positive impact on their lives. For example, during the summer months, members with young children were encouraged to visit the pop up school uniform shop (also located in the Ashton Centre) to avail of unwanted or new uniforms in preparation for the new school term.
Since November 2022, a clothing pop up store has also been established offering a provision of coats and warm clothes and has already been accessed by over 100 local families.
The Pantry model has also been recently supplemented by a community fridge initiative. Developed in partnership with funding from Hubbub UK and food donations from local Lidl stores, the fridge is located on the ground floor of the Ashton Centre. Unlike the Pantry it does not require a membership to avail of the food on offer and has been designed to provide crisis support for those suffering acutely from food insecurities.
Similarly to the Pantry, these additional services place an emphasis on recycling and re-distributing food surpluses or unwanted household goods or products to those most in need. This in turn offers a practical framework to promote the development of a more circular economy that works to reduce waste and has a positive impact on the environment.
Recently the Pantry has also supported a drop in facility, that allows local members of the community to access a warm room with access to basic tea and coffee facilities. This is targeted at families or older people that may be struggling with the recent rise in energy costs and are unable to heat their homes sufficiently.
These initiatives do not offer sustainable long term solutions to the current cost of living crisis. However, collectively they do provide access to immediate support and source of respite for those families in critical need.
If you would like more information about the Pantry or would like to provide sponsorship for a Pantry member family or shelf you can do so by emailing email@example.com or telephoning 028 9074 2255.