Making friends through food

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A church is helping more than 1,000 people with the rising cost of living through a new community store.

City Gates Church in Ilford, east London, has launched Ilford Community Grocery – the first partnership between a London church and Manchester-based The Message Trust. It opened earlier this year and has been warmly welcomed by low-income families and others struggling against poverty.

“We were in a meeting with The Message and they explained how they’d opened a number of stores but that they were mainly in the north. They’d never done anything in London,” said City Gates pastor Steve Derbyshire (pictured above in the church’s grocery store).

“Our church is quite influential in our town, with a lot of local relationships and community links through things like our coffee shop, mother and toddler group and the fact we’re a Christians Against Poverty centre, so we agreed to partner with The Message and Redbridge Council to open a shop.”

On the ground floor of the church’s huge five-storey building, the store and its storeroom occupy a good-sized space, and more than 1,000 people have signed up to shop there.

Community stores aim to bridge the gap between supermarkets and foodbanks. Members pay £5 for a year’s membership and can then do daily £5 shops consisting of 12 items. From fresh fruit, veg and meat to tinned goods, toiletries and pet food, affordable but high-quality groceries are available five days a week, acquired from various supermarkets and food distributors.

Steve explained that the shop serves a wide variety of customers. While many are on low incomes, lots of others have full-time jobs in London but are still struggling with the cost of living.

“I’ve got people on good salaries but in London, if your mortgage rises to 6 per cent and especially if you’ve got kids too, you require a substantial amount of income to pay for everything. It’s so expensive.”


Now that the popular shop is up and running, the team are looking to introduce wraparound services to offer further help to the community.

The Message provides its Community Grocery members with access to courses including debt management support through CAP, cooking lessons, Alpha courses and more. As a CAP centre, and with existing counselling services and many community activities already in place, City Gates Church is perfectly placed to offer this.

The store would not be possible without the team behind it, Steve said.

Two paid staff – Alvaro Adair and Jackie Oladimeji – run the business and extra services, while a team of volunteers keep shelves stocked, sign up new members and look after customers.

Alvaro and Jackie say one of the main joys of the job is getting to know customers and helping to support them during difficult times.

“It’s humbling to hear people’s stories and how the shop is making a difference,” said Alvaro.

“Anyone can go through a season where things are really bad but we trust this is just for a time, and that they will come out of it.”

He added: “We’re getting to know our customers and sometimes get to pray for or with them.” 

It’s so much more than simply selling groceries, said Steve.

“I’ve watched these guys at work and it’s about the level of care they give too. Jesus made friends with people, and you have to do that before you can share your faith with them. People know we’re a church in the middle of their community.

“It’s about helping to provide what our community needs, improving lives and sharing the gospel as we do.

“Jesus walked alongside people, and this is what we’re trying to do too.”

From New Life Newspaper issue 347

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