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The Greater Manchester lifeline offering struggling families a £9 weekly food shop

A non-profit organisation is helping families in Greater Manchester stay afloat in the cost of living crisis – by offering them a weekly shop for less than a tenner. 

For £8.50, members of the Bread and Butter Thing pick up three bags of groceries, with fruit and veg, cupboard staples and fridgeables. The ‘mobile food club’ picks up ‘surplus food’ from supermarkets to bring discounted groceries to areas heavily affected by food poverty. 

One of those areas is Holts Village, a social housing complex in Alexandra, Oldham. In the middle of a sprawling residential area, an unassuming shop-front becomes the base of operation for the charity every Friday morning. 

Volunteers pack several crates of food that supermarkets can’t sell – from oddly shaped veg to foods that are ‘out of season’ or past their sell-by (but not their use-by dates) – into more than 120 shopping bags with military-style precision. 

“It saved my life,” Aga, one of the volunteers who also uses the service, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service. “And it saved my wallet.” 

Just over a year ago, severe depression had left the trained chef from Poland unable to leave her home. She had to leave her job and was in a ‘dark place’. 

She volunteered with the charity to give herself something to take her mind off things and soon started using the service herself. 

She said: “It helped me financially because I was out of work. I relied on the bags. And it also gave me a purpose, a place to belong. It was really uplifting.” 

Now Aga helps other people who are struggling to keep enough food on the table – especially fresh and healthy produce, which has spiralled in price. 

Although food prices have finally started to go down again with lowering inflation, many families are struggling to balance the books alongside high electricity and gas costs and low wages. In Oldham alone, membership to the food hubs has grown by just under a thousand people in the last 12 months alone. 

And for people like Emma, who didn’t wish to give her real name, the scheme ‘makes all the difference’ when it comes to being able to afford all her bills at the end of the month.

Emma has visited the food hub at Holts Village regularly for almost a year. The full-time carer works nights and usually catches up on precious sleep during the day but told us she especially sets an alarm to pick up her order. 

She said: “My partner doesn’t work because he’s disabled, so it’s all on me – and I’m on minimum wage.

“It means I can still pay my gas, my electric, things like that a lot easier. So this really takes the pressure off. 

“If I went home with this from a supermarket, I could guarantee it would cost me at least 40 quid. And if you go to the chippy over the road and get two meals, that would cost you more than this does.” 

Members receive three bags; one with fruit and veg, one with refrigerated goods and one with cupboard staples like bread, rice and pasta. 

“This lasts me a week – or more. Sometimes I have an overabundance of things and have to skip a week while I work through it all.” 

Emma added that it felt different to using a food bank. 

She said: “This is for low earners and I’m a low earner. If I was using a food bank, I feel like I’d be taking it from someone who needs it more than me. I can afford to pay for food – just not as much as this.”

Another member, Ngozi, was on her second ever visit to the food hub. With one of her three daughters in tow, she collected the bulging plastic bags from the unassuming site entrance with a slight smile on her face. 

“I tried it for the first time last week and I was really quite happy.

“With the tomato I got last week, I was able to make two meals – with pasta and with rice. As soon as I saw those two dishes, I thought: that’s already worth more than £8.50.” 

Her husband works full-time but with three growing kids, Ngozi says money can be tight. 

“When you go shopping, you pick up just two things and the money is gone. With what my husband earns and the benefits, we try really hard not to go into debt.” 

Sandra, a Holts Village resident, says she uses both the Bread and Butter Thing and food banks to get by ever since she’s had to stop working due to ill health. 

“I’ve been living day to day, really,” she said. She’d been left ‘living off pasta and rice’ for a week after a friend who was supposed to pick up her groceries from the food hub last week hadn’t made it, she said.

For Sandra, the benefit is as much about the accessibility as the cost. 

“The shop near me is expensive. And the nearest Aldi would take me three buses to get to and then I’d have to find a way to get all my shopping home. And I can’t [carry] a big shop because I’m disabled.”

She noted that the service could be hit-or-miss. “Sometimes things go off very quickly. So food banks can be better because it’s mostly in cans, which last a long time. 

“But it’s great to have this option. Especially when you used to be a cook and can make something out of nothing.” 

Members don’t get to choose what goes into their bags because the produce depends on what is in ‘oversupply’ at supermarkets that week, a volunteer explained. 

Dad-of-three Jason pulled up in a van just minutes before the hub was due to close and loaded a mammoth order of four doubles – 24 bags – into his boot. He’s been using the service since 2020, when he started picking up groceries for his mum.  

Now he picks up for his children and his ex-wife’s family – and much of their local community, as food not used by one family is passed on to the next, he said. 

“It’s cheaper shopping. And otherwise it would all go to waste, wouldn’t it?” he said. 

“For the price of it, you get reasonably good stuff, stuff you wouldn’t usually buy. Asda’s just down the road from me but sometimes it’s too much to just go for a loaf of bread.

“Nowadays people can’t afford the branded stuff. And you don’t get cheap stuff in this, it’s the quality stuff, so the kids get a better quality of food.” 

He also said he loved the sense of community. 

“They’re all fantastic in there. Even when you’re stood in the queue, if the weather’s nice and they’re all stood out here – you’re all chatting.”

The Bread and Butter project has 39 hubs across the region – and a total of more than 24,500 members. But with demand on the rise, they’re increasingly in need of volunteers and food suppliers. 

Alex Butcher, the organisation’s press manager, said: “We’re always on the hunt for volunteers and for members – anyone in a tight spot should come to us. 

“We want to work with more food suppliers to get more food. We help them with their surplus food but we’re also solving a problem over here where there’s issues around affordability and accessibility of nourishing food. It’s two birds with one stone.” 

She noted the group was also calling on the government to bring more transparency into food supplies. Butcher said it would mean ‘more surplus food’ which is usually lost along supply lines could instead ‘go to feed more people who need it’. 

 

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