Former volunteers and customers of the Our Shop food club in Margate say they are still bewildered by its sudden closure.
In August 2020, in collaboration with Thanet council, Our Kitchen on the Isle of Thanet took over the premises at 51 High Street to host an affordable food club shop with meal kits, chances to learn new recipes, useful information sessions on nutrition and opportunities to taste new products.
Our Kitchen was a community interest company headed up by Ramsgate resident Sharon Goodyer and run with input from trustees, staff and volunteers.
The social supermarket, which was later joined by a second site in Ramsgate, was the result of the Our Kitchen on the Isle of Thanet scheme which first launched in Cliffsend in 2017 and then as a Summer Kitchen in 2018 – serving some 1,642 meals to families during the holidays and based at Drapers Mills primary and Dame Janet primary.
Last year Sharon retired from the CIC and the reins were passed to Social Enterprise Kent (SEK) in October. SEK planned to expand the shops with the introduction of services for employability, social prescribing, health checks.
But it was announced last month that the Margate site would close due to ‘significantly increasing’ costs, including a £30,000 utility bill.
SEK said Our Kitchen had received a bill for energy costs of nearly £30,000 and ,coupled with increased waste and food costs, made running the Margate site unviable.”
The Margate Independent Food Bank said customers would be welcome at its MiCommunity shop, also in the High Street.
But SpeakUp CIC, a Thanet-based independent mental health support organisation, says many of its members had been either volunteers or customers at the shop and are now feeling the impact of its loss.
Managing Director and SpeakUpCIC Founder Maggie Gallant said: “People rely on a service like that many have very little money and it is a lifeline for them. But now if they want to use it they have to go to the shop in Ramsgate and most don’t have money for the bus. It should be replaced with something in Margate, closures like this should not be allowed to happen. SEK should have been aware of the costs before taking it on.
“Lots of our SpeakUp members used the shop and the feedback was that you went in and were welcomed and it was also a social place where people would say hello and you could have a chat.”
Lisa Teyn, 44, was a regular customer. Although she now lives in Ramsgate one of her sons is still at school in Margate which made it easier for her to use that shop.
The mum-of-three said: “It is a real shame. I met some lovely people in the shop and really enjoyed going there. It was a bit of a social thing meaning I could speak to people. My kids have autism so I am mostly with them but I could go to the shop on a Wednesday during schooltime and have adults to talk to and buy affordable food. The prices there made a difference to the things I could buy.
“Because it was a small shop they also only had five people in at a time. For people with mental health issues this was also a way of feeling safe. Losing the shop has had a huge impact.”
Sam Sidebottom was one of the 20-strong team of volunteers at the Margate shop.
She says the closure just a few months after SEK took over was a huge shock. She said: “The shop was a God send for many of our customers who were able to meet up and have a chat with other people, sometimes it was the only chat they would have from one week to the next.
“We were told when the shop was taken over that nothing would change but a few months later we found out it was shutting with everything going to Ramsgate and the volunteers were upset as we heard that from someone who wasn’t even from SEK.
“We had elderly and disabled customers who can’t get to Ramsgate and we were signing up around five new customers a day.
“These are the people who are going to suffer.”
Maggie also questioned how the energy bill had risen to such a huge level, saying: “There was hardly any heating in the shop, it was freezing in there.”
A spokesperson for SEK said: “This was not a decision that was made lightly. Sadly, many charities and businesses are closing at the moment because of the cost of living and energy crises. For the most part, people have been very understanding of that, and we have been open and communicative throughout the process.
“With regards to the energy bill, when an energy account moves from one named person to another, the negotiating of the energy tariff begins again. The quote that we received was for the coming year – not money owed. This was the lowest of several quotes that we received.
“There is a food bank run in almost the same way about 10 doors down on the High Street. As part of our decision-making process, we spoke to Margate Independent Food Bank, who said they were happy to welcome both customers and volunteers to their site with open arms. Although still a hard decision for us, we felt reassured that the customers and volunteers would still have a good provision very close by.”
Former Our Kitchen lead Sharon Goodyer said: “As Thanet saw the volunteers were the best, they stayed for years and became experts at retail and being cheerful and supportive. We gave away as much as we could.” She added that finding out about the closure had been a “bruising experience.”
Aram Rawf, who works with SpeakUp, said although there is other provision he is worried this will place extra pressure on those services.
He said: “The food bank community shop already has pressures on it and I think people are also going to find it difficult travelling to Ramsgate to use that shop.”
The MiCommunity Shop is currently appealing for donations. Director John Finnegan says the shop is seeing its margins being cut and as a non-profit organisation relies on donations of both food and money.
He added: “Times are tough for everyone, and we are seeing a drop in donations.
I spend most of my time on the internet trying to find the best deals I can so we can keep our prices down.
“We need to cover our overheads and running costs. We also rely on the local community using the shop, because if they use the shop they are helping us help families that are really struggling and need extra help.”
Find MiCommunity shop updates here
Tel: 01843 448384 or 07543 977670
New energy contracts are always negotiable. It is likely that the estimate was based on passed usage at that property. If you can provide an honest statement of what devices you will be using and the hours they will be used for, a revised figure should be offered. I recently argued against the estimated figure I was given by EOn for a property that was in limbo between being put on sale and completion of the sale. Usage in that time was going to be minimal In terms of electric and next to zero gas. The deal I finally negotiated was just the standing charges and absolutely minimal usage.
One wonders if they shopped round for the best electricity price rather than just go with the well known names in the supply industry. It is well reported by a comparison magazine that Octopus offer the best rate at approximately 15p pkwh as long as you have a smart meter instead of the 77p pkwh offered by the big boys. It is all about research.
Social Enterprise Kent (C.I.C., web site says “Every day we deliver a positive social impact, strengthen communities, empower people and improve lives. Last time we looked they had a 33 strong team (many we are sure are volunteers) Worth checking their web site out This is information only
No need to be bewildered-you aren’t ‘art’ or a fairground/entertainment venue & they are the only things that get funding in Margate for the last decade.
Turner gets over half a million every year for rags on walls, stick man doodles, paint chucked at canvas & shapes stuck to the walls & floors, a far more worthy cause than helping poor hungry people in need. Just like Hartsdown swimming pool had to beg to get a new roof & the public have been unable to access it for a year.
How many food banks does Margate High Street actually need ? (Especially if they are only ten doors apart).
There is clearly not enough business to go round – neither by way of people donating food nor those purchasing it.
I understood that most food banks give food away – so why would users want to pay for food they can get free elsewhere ?
Because you need a referral to an actual “FREE” foodbank, perhaps?
SEK did you know this before you took over.