“Would you like a drink?” asks Colin as I wheel my bike into the café.
“Ah, yes please. Tea, no sugar. Quite milky please.”
I’m back at the Coverdale and Newbank Community Hub on Stockport Road. At the beginning of 2020, just months before the first lockdown, I reported on their community grocers project and today I’m back for an update.
Elaine, chair of the Coverdale and Newbank Community Association, is here with other volunteers, all waiting for a delivery of fresh food from the food charity Fairshare. Thirty-odd green crates are laid out, ready to be filled with this week’s produce. Tomorrow morning their doors will be open for those local residents most in need.
“It’s different from a food bank,” explains Elaine. “Everyone pays £2.50 but they get maybe £15-worth of food for the week.
We’ve got our regulars but, since Covid, we’re seeing lots more people and some of their stories are heart-breaking.”
Before the pandemic the grocers occupied the opposite, smaller side of this rather neglected building which was once a housing office for the local social landlord. “This side wasn’t being used,” says Elaine, “and the Council who owned the building had given up on it, so we’ve moved across to set up a Covid-safe space.”
There’s no love lost between Elaine and the city’s officials. A long-standing dispute over leases has yet to be resolved. In the meantime the Community Association gets on with supporting its local community every way it can. “I’d be happy for them to leave us alone,” she says.
Colin hands me a mug of tea. “Perfect, thanks.” The Fairshare van arrives and Colin and William help the driver unload this week’s delivery.
In this bigger space the volunteers have been able to spread out the grocers – the shelving, the fridges, the freezers – and also create a bigger café with socially-distanced seating.
“We first came back in the September,” explains Elaine, “sooner than we should have because we’re all vulnerable. But people needed us, didn’t they? Yes, they were getting the government parcels but they were complaining there was nothing fresh, it was all dried food. So we made this bigger space safe and we came back.”
The new café has proved popular. “After they’ve picked up their groceries, many of our customers will stop for a brew. Some stay for hours because it’s the only time in the week they get out of the house and see anyone.
“Covid has got a lot to answer for,” says Elaine. “Even with vaccinations and boosters, some are scared to go out.”
“And what about the new people you are supporting?” I ask.
“Some have worked all their lives but have now lost their businesses and those who are working but can’t make ends meet. Recently I got an email from a nurse who works with Covid patients at the local hospital. She works full time, has four kids and by the third week in the month has no money left for food. How bad is that? It’s as if the government has forgotten what they’ve done throughout the pandemic.”
“What shall we do with these cucumbers?” someone asks Elaine as yet more fresh food comes through the door.
“It seems community grocers and food banks are needed more than ever,” I say. “Why’s that?”
“It’s an accumulation of things,” explains Elaine, “but dramatic changes to the benefit system over the last few years have played a big part. Universal Credit has been a nightmare for many. Even after you’ve applied you can wait upto 16 weeks for a first payment. Please tell me how a parent is supposed to feed their kids for 16 weeks with no money coming in? Yes, I do get passionate and I do get angry.”
I can see why.
“But Covid is still having a devastating effect. More than people realise. And it’s not going away.”
Misties Café open every Thursday 12-2
Call in and ask about the Community Grocers
Coverdale & Newbank Community Hub
217 Stockport Road