There is already a queue outside the door when I arrive. Chanelle, her mum Nita and friend Lauren are next up. “Would you like the little carrots or the big ones?” asks volunteer Linda as she accompanies Chanelle around the shelves.
“Oh, the big ones definitely,” says Chanelle.
Started nearly three years ago, this community grocers shop is just one of several initiatives of the Coverdale and Newbank Community Association, now based in Coverdale House, the old housing office of social landlords One Manchester.
“It hasn’t been easy,” says chairperson Elaine Lovesey when she takes a break from a steady stream of customers. “We’ve had to fight hard for this building.” Elaine recounts a complex tale of sit-ins, financial mismanagement (before her time), leases, business plans, and confrontations with officialdom which has, thankfully, now all worked out for the best.
“I think they underestimated our determination, they thought we’d give up, but we didn’t give up. We’re all the best of friends now.”
The community grocers is somewhere between a food bank and an old-style corner shop. Members – and there are over 300 now – pay £2.50 each week and can choose from a range of different items from the shelves, freezer and vegetable racks.
With a band of dedicated volunteers – Linda, Barbara, David and Trish – each customer is given personal attention… with plenty of banter thrown in for free.
I catch up with Chanelle in the community café down the hall where all three of them are enjoying a lunch of homemade meat and potato pie made by yet another of the community volunteers.
“I have a three-year-old daughter and to be honest I wouldn’t survive on my benefits if it wasn’t for this shop,” Chanelle tells me between mouthfuls. “What I get for £2.50 here would cost me well over a tenner at a supermarket.
“It’s a nice place to meet people and socialise,” she says, turning to her friend Lauren. “Do you remember at Easter we had that Easter egg hunt for the kids?”
“Some politicians would say that food banks and places like this aren’t needed,” I suggest.
“Let them try living on benefits for a month,” says Lauren, fork in hand. “Let them come and live my life. They don’t know nothing.”
After lunch I ask Trish – who’s been volunteering in the shop for a couple of years now – why she started. “I’d changed my life around and had to give up work through ill health,” she says. “Then I found I was isolated. My older friends had a different sort of life and I’d lost touch with my work mates. So I was just in bed, sleeping all day.”
She was invited to attend an event where she met fellow volunteers, Linda and Barbara. “It gets me out of the house, stops me from getting depressed. I now help other people and that helps me, it gives me a sense of pride.
“All of us volunteers are good friends, we talk over each others problems, and get to know what’s coming on in our community.”
Back in the shop Linda is serving their oldest customer. “I’ll be getting a telegram from the Queen in three years,” Yunusa tells me, “I’m only a year younger than Prince Phillip.”
Yunusa has lived around here for the last 50-odd years and his weekly trip to see the shop volunteers is a highlight. “This place is wonderful,” he says, looking around. “Everyone is so friendly and helpful.”
“What did you get today?” I ask.
“Some lovely salmon. I’ll smoke it when I get home.”
“He loves his fish, don’t you Yunusa?” says Trish as he heads for the door.
Coverdale & Newbank Community Hub
217 Stockport Road
The Community Grocers is open to members on Thursdays from 11am-2pm. Call in and ask for details.