Former chapel to become Wales’ first ‘social supermarket’ offering discounted goods to people on benefits

Chris Kelsey writing for Wales Online: A former chapel is to become Wales’ first ‘social supermarket’ offering cut price goods to people on benefits.

Trinity Chapel in Abertillery will be transformed after being rescued by a partnership between the Coalfields Regeneration Trust Wales (CRT Wales) and Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council.

After being restored to its former glory with a £600,000 EU grant, the chapel will house the first Welsh social supermarket, offering cut prices on regular supermarket goods to those on welfare support.

The membership-only supermarket will be based on the ‘community shop’ concept that was first developed in Goldthorpe, South Yorkshire.

Up to 75% discounts

Members will be able to shop for goods deemed ‘unfit for sale’ by supermarkets with huge discounts – often up to 75% off the retail price.

Membership is restricted to those who already receive welfare support. All products in the shop will be within their expiry date but have been rejected by supermarkets for sale. This could include dented tins or items with incorrect labelling or old

The building will also house a credit union information point and welfare and benefit advice.

The Welsh Government-backed Communities First programme is also looking to locate its office base in the building to provide job training. Members will have access to the advice centre which will offer financial support and social support on matters including child care and skills training.

Alun Taylor, head of operations at CRT Wales, said: “This is a unique and much-needed innovative project partnership with Blaenau Gwent Council which could be replicated across Wales, and contribute significantly to reducing the high levels of poverty that still remain in coalfield communities.

“With building due for completion in February, this project has the potential to provide long-lasting social good in a community that has been hit hard by severe welfare cuts. The social supermarket will provide much needed support to many people.”

Nick Landers, principal projects officer at Blaenau Gwent County Council, said: “We are delighted to be working with CRT Wales to transform the historic Trinity chapel.

“Forming part of the Abertillery Town Centre Regeneration Programme, which was jointly funded by the European Union, Welsh Government and Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council, this is an exciting project that will introduce this new social support concept to a Welsh region that really needs it.”

Graham Bartlett, executive member for economy at Blaenau Gwent County Council, said: “This is an exciting time for Abertillery and I am extremely proud that we are bringing Wales’ first social supermarket to the region.

“Trinity Chapel has previously received a lot of investment, including that from the European Regional Development Fund, and so the completion of this project will make those investments worthwhile and ensure they continue to benefit the community.”

Trinity Chapel was built in 1877 and was converted for retail use in 1995. Since its redevelopment began in 2013, the building has been the subject of a number of different redevelopment plans before Blaenau Gwent Council leased the building to CRT Wales.

“Two tier shopping in a two tier nation?”

Disabled customers – businesses need to fill gap in market

James Moore, a wheelchair user and journalist, writing in The Independent, gives his views on how badly disabled people are served.

Businesses are losing £1.8bn a month by failing to consider the needs of their disabled customers, according to research carried out for a commission investigating financial burdens placed on the disabled.

Some 75 per cent of disabled people and their families say they have left a shop or other business because it failed to meet their needs, according to the Extra Costs Commission, which published its interim report on Thursday.

I’m one of those people. Having asked the staff at my local Tesco if it was alright for me to put my shopping into a shoulder bag I was carrying around my neck (I can’t easily manage a trolley or basket and I didn’t want them mistaking me for a shoplifter), they at first offered me a mobility scooter.

Then I decided I couldn’t have a mobility scooter because I’d never driven one before and I might hit someone.

After a conference which I was excluded, and during which I was left hanging around in some discomfort, the duty manager was finally summoned. He said that, yes, I could use my shoulder bag.

But then I’d had enough. As a result, what probably now amounts to several thousand pounds-worth of custom has gone the way of Sainsbury’s.

ShoppingPartly because of the experience, I readily accepted an offer to sit on the Commission. It was set up by charity Scope to investigate ways of addressing the extra costs faced by Britain’s growing number of disabled citizens.

Growing because Britain has an ageing population and disability is part of the process of getting older for many.

My switch to Sainsbury’s brings up another point about the “purple pound”, the money people with disabilities  have to spend: it’s remarkably sticky.

With thousands of businesses failing us, when we or our families find one that does look after us we’re apt to go back again and again.

That’s certainly been the experience of my family, after I reluctantly joined the community thanks to the efforts of a lorry to squash my bicycle (and me) flat. Well, it helped me lose weight at ant rate.

The costs we racked up in the early days were incredible. Taxis, for a start. I’ve also been through a hundred-weight of socks in an attempt to find pairs with enough give in them to accommodate a foot that can easily go up a shoe size or two in a day through swelling, and which doesn’t exacerbate the neuropathic pain I feel a greater or less extent during the day. Pain that leaves my foot feeling as if it’s been scrubbed with wire wool.

We have found some specialist pairs sans elastic. But they’re pricey. And they don’t always look good.

Specialist products cost more. A wheelchair basketball-playing friend once opined that if you tack “disabled” on to a product you tack a multiple on the price.

Moreover, state support for disabled people is either withdrawn or made much, much harder to access. Despite the characterisation of so many of us as either scroungers or saints we are, by and large, ordinary people who are more than willing to help ourselves.

Hence the recommendation for an online review site for disability-related products, so that disabled people can tell each other about where they’ve found the best-value deals or good customer service. Or (best of all) both.

We’re looking at switching schemes and buyers clubs to drive down the costs of things disabled people buy: a Nectar-type affiliate scheme to help disabled people get good deals and help businesses reach us.

One of the most rewarding parts of sitting on the Commission is working with, and listening to the ideas of, the business people on it. They’ve had their eyes opened too.

What we all agree on this: the mobilised purple pound could be a powerful force. And, businesses: it’s there for the taking. It might not be as hard as you think.