Shartson based Message Trust opens The Community Grocer and offers members a shopping trip for £3.

A new grocery store has opened in Wythenshawe where shoppers can stock up for £3.

Aiming to bridge the gap between supermarkets – which can be too expensive for many – and food banks, The Community Grocery is part of The Message Trust’s site in Sharston.

Selling food that has been donated from local suppliers and supermarkets at a drastically reduced price, it’s been celebrated by the local community and has made a real difference just two weeks after opening, allowing people left in a vulnerable position by the pandemic to have independence and dignity.

The Message Enterprise Centre has already been changing lives through its community cafe The Mess Cafe, which gives training and employment to ex-offenders, or those at risk of offending.

But over lockdown, with the cafe forced to lock its doors (though no staff went without pay), the charity realised it had a professional catering kitchen standing silent, and sprung into action.

Inspired by Marcus Rashford’s efforts and working with fellow charity Cracking Good Food, The Message Trust began to prepare healthy meals for children missing out on their free school lunches – sending out 60,000 meals in total.

It quickly dawned on the team that the coronavirus pandemic was also pushing many families and individuals closer than ever to the poverty line, and that a more sustainable aid model was needed – enter the affordable grocery store.

Ellie Dickinson from The Message Trust said: “Initially it was just for children who weren’t in school any more but would have qualified for free school meals, and then we realised there were vulnerable families who weren’t at work, or isolating, or just couldn’t afford to go shopping.

“It made us realise that there was a real need for more than just hot meals – often people couldn’t afford their weekly shop.

“The Community Grocery is touching on two points – it’s a low-cost food shop that still gives people that agency, and no one feels like they’re going to a food bank.

“I think that is quite hard for a lot of people, if they get to that stage.

“Because it’s a shop, each week they can actually choose what they want. They’re not just given a box without knowing what’s in it.

“It’s actually a really aesthetically pleasing shop too – it looks like Ancoats General Store which just adds to the experience!”

There’s a £5 annual membership fee to join The Community Grocery project, which also gives members access to jobs workshops, career advice, mental wellbeing courses, CV writing help and computer literacy lessons.

Then it’s a mere £3 per food shop, with members able to visit twice a week.

The amount of food they can buy changes each week depending on supplies –  but a recent week’s list contained five pieces of fresh fruit or veg, two bread items, five canned or boxed items, two freezer items, two fridge items, four different ‘best before’ items (items where they are close to the best before date but are still safe to eat), one ‘non-food item’, and two potted plants.

Wythenshawe locals have welcomed the scheme with open arms.

Ellie said: “There have been so many people in the local community who have said ‘Look, I don’t need this, but I’d like to cover someone else’s membership’. It’s been lovely.

“There’s been a real outpouring of support that we didn’t expect.

“We initially did a soft launch for the people we were delivering meals to during lockdown – they were our priority.

“But they spread the word and now we’ve got over 200 members and queues down the street! It’s been wonderful.”

The Message Trust is welcoming volunteers either to help in The Community Grocery, or to lead careers workshops or similar.

You can find out more or make a donation at www.message.org.uk, or visit The Community Grocery’s website at lovewythenshawe.org/community-grocery

It’s hoped that The Community Grocery concept will expand across the UK.