Written by Michael Wakelyn-Green, Greenham Parish councillor – racecourse ward.

Cheap food during the cost of living crisis?

Get some in Greenham!

Do you want good cheap food during the cost of living crisis? To reduce food waste, eat healthier, and chat with local folk? Do it all by joining Greenham Community larder!

What, when, and where is Greenham’s community larder?

Greenham Community Larder hosted at Greenham community centre in the Nightingales, has more than 30 members with most coming each week. It runs every Thursday between 1pm-2.30pm.

A community larder is a “pop-up” hub where locals gather to get often surplus, and nearly expired supermarket food, valued on average between £12-£15, for as little as £3.50 a week (£14/month Individual membership). SOFEA are the social enterprise that supply the larder, alongside educating and providing apprenticeships for young people that struggle with mainstream education. Dependant on availability, they offer unlimited fruit and veg, alongside a maximum of 14 other items including household essentials like cereals, bread, and milk. You can get double the items with a family membership for £7 a week (£28/month) on sign up. SOFEA also runs a larder at Newbury’s Waterside centre at 2pm on Tuesdays, alarder in Thatcham, and others around the country.

What can you get?

In my last larder outing pre-Christmas, I got this haul - again for just £3.50!:

· a welcome big bag of potatoes, which certainly ended up part of our family Christmas roast!

· 2 bags of easy peelers,

· a long-lasting 1.5kg bag of frozen vegan Quorn bits,

· 3 lettuces,

· a loaf of white bread,

· 2 bags of fresh spaghetti,

· 3 bags of mozzarella cheese,

· 2 jars of basic Bolognese sauce

Using acquired veg from previous weeks to jazz up the Bolognese sauce: onions, peppers and mushrooms (carrots as well if you like), you have a nutritious easy meal for a few people!

· 2 cucumbers,

· Lots of tasty apples,

· 2 large fancy frozen ciabatta baguettes,

· a sachet of cat food

The larder also has Cat & Dog food which is often expensive in the supermarket. The larder also stocks female health products which are free and provided by the charity“All Yours”. This can be accessed without a membership to the larder, which is a fantastic public health initiative. Their website and ways to donate can be found here:Tackling Period Poverty | All Yours (allyoursbox.co.uk)

Why the “Community” bit matters

The food and other essential supplies are the main draw, however many come early (to get the best bits) but also to chat with other local people. I enjoy speaking with Matt and Emily who run the youth centre and organise the Greenham larder. Matt told me:

“We have people come from Pigeon’s farm, the new racecourse flats, and of course the Nightingales where we are. The larder is a communal asset which brings the community together. We also have volunteers help with the larder, which is great.”

Jamie an occupational therapist living in Greenham Parish, who attends with his daughter told me:

“We eat much more fruit and veg than before we used the larder. It also reduces food waste which is better for the environment, and very important. It’s also nice to meet interesting people in the local area.”

Another member, Sarah from the Nightingales feels:

“There is a wrong stigma that this place is a food bank. Although there is nothing wrong with foodbanks – times are tough - this is not a food bank. I love cooking, but cooking can get boring. The larder makes you cook seasonally given the veg they have, so you have to adapt and learn each week. It’s also cheap!”

Even more appreciated following the lockdown years, community involvement has been widely linked to improved community cohesion, and individual mental health. The Mental Health Foundation UK and the overwhelming research consensus, correlate that people who have stronger ties to their local community are happier, physically healthier, live longer, and have fewer mental health problems than those who are less connected.

Improving community cohesion has many benefits, and has been linked to reduced crime, anti-social behaviour, and problematic drug and alcohol use etc. Although the larder is certainly not the sole solution itself, it does improve our area by bringing people together, and helps those who maybe struggling themselves financially (with the food) or with broader health issues. As the larder is at a community “hub” it can provide information about other local services and initiatives as well.

Greenham Parish council have invested public funds into the larder (financing the fridges) and we are keen for more community participation in this initiative.

(Photo from left to right: Myself, Becca from the centre, Cllr Blackborow, and Emily also from Greenham Community centre.)

What I use the larder for? And why you should too!

I love a bargain, saving me and my family money, the great chats I have – these are all great! But the larder also makes me a better cook. Given the nature of the larder, each week there is a random selection of items where you never know what you’re going to get. You’d struggle to do your “full shop” using the larder, but it can certainly supplement your weekly shop, reduce costs, alongside improving the diversity and healthiness of what you and your family are eating.

The jazzy Bolognese I mentioned before, I made it!

The pasta, the bulk of the sauce, the bread and the lettuce were all acquired from the larder, making me a yummy meal.

The larder is a great community resource providing cheap but good food during a cost of living crisis, reducing food waste while eating more healthy fruit and veg. It also helps build community cohesion, which improves individual and community health.

With so many pros, why miss out? Give the larder a go!