New BrightStore in Mile Oak – expanding the affordable food network

It is shortly before ten when I arrive at The Good Shepherd Church Hall in Mile Oak, the bell of the adjacent church is ringing, and a few churchgoers are still finding their way to the service. It is quite cool, the air fresh, and the door to the community centre is still closed, but not for long anymore. Today, the opening of the city’s fourth BrightStore will take place, which will be a community-run social grocery shop that gives people access to affordable food.

Rachel, who is one of the people who set up the BrightStore during the pandemic, arrives with a friendly smile on her face. She is excited and confident for today. Her only concern is that people might not know about the opening day. This worry is later to prove unfounded. More volunteers arrive, some being already familiar with the BrightStore concept, others not yet. After the first team meeting, the first preparations are made: we set up tables, decorate them with colourful tablecloths and make sure everything is covid-safe with a one-way system. And then it is already time to sort the food that is to end up in the bags of the first community members today. 

Most of the food, which is high-quality surplus food, is ordered from Fare Share and the Brighton Food Factory. Those who shop here therefore also save food that could have ended up in the bin. Rachel tells me: “I try to buy seasonal and local products. The bread is fresh and high quality from surplus donated by The Flour Pot Bakery” Even the eggs come from free-range hens in the region and may have been laid the same day or the day before. It could hardly be fresher.

At one o’clock the time has come. With the sun coming out of the clouds, the first community members arrive and are welcomed by the volunteers. As the concept of the affordable food shop is still a fairly new one, most of the people turning up have some questions about the project. The volunteers explain that you can register as a member and then for a small membership fee (around £4/6) get access to the fresh, local produce and store cupboard items. Below is a picture of an average shop you could go home with. 

However, as a member you don’t have to pay the small membership fee upfront, you just pay it when you come along on a Wednesday. The idea is that the shop is run entirely by BrightStore members for members. At this point, it is important to mention that BrightStore is open for anyone who would like to join, members of the community who have larger budgets are encouraged to pay a little more to help other people with smaller budgets get a share. It is a concept that became possible with the pandemic with people having more time to support each other and focus more on the local life. 

One community member I spoke to said about the concept of the shop: “it’s brilliant, I’ve never heard of it before, but you can’t go wrong with it”.  

There are community members in the store, most of whom have already signed up for a BrightStore membership. I hear a constant soundscape of people talking, laughing, sounds from the kitchen of people making tea and children playing. It feels like a community; people know each other and take time to chat. There are people of all ages, including families. Especially after the end of school, people with children drop in. You can tell it is a child-friendly space as well where kids get to know each other and play together. 

Some people who arrive have previously been to another BrightStore in town and manoeuvre confidentially from one table to another, thankful to now have this community on their doorstep. For others, it is their first time in a BrightStore, so the volunteers help them by explaining how many items from which selection of food they can choose. The selection is large. It ranges from dry goods to canned goods, to drinks, to sanitary items, and the popular fresh fruit and vegetables.  

After three hours of a busy (yet child-safe) shop with many positive responses from people, the first BrightStore in Mile Oak closes. Any leftover food is either stored in the community hall or goes to the BrightStore in Hove, which is open the next day, so no food is wasted. Everyone agrees that it was a successful first day at the BrightStore in Mile Oak. 

To find out more about BrightStore go to: https://www.brightstore.org 

This blog is written by Mara Hasheider doing an internship with Brighton & Hove Food Partnership

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