by Emma Winfield, Food @ The Space

The Space – beyond a shop

I’m Emma Winfield and I run The Natural Building Store in the Old Post Office on Chessel Street in Southville. I opened my business having discovered during eco-building volunteering and training experiences, how difficult it was to access quality DIY products and independent advice on eco building and retrofitting. Following a year’s involvement in setting up Transition Bristol and Transition BS3 I also wanted to reorient my efforts towards creating a localised, community-focused, viable, debt-free business that could help people learn about, and implement, sustainable changes to their homes and lifestyles. Beyond this, I wanted to do more in my local community, getting to know more people and finding ways to meet more of our needs locally.

I started with a stall at the Tobacco Factory Market then moved into a shared space in the Old Post Office, later taking on the whole premises. I had always known that I wanted to find a way to run the main business, The Natural Building Store, and continue and expand the not-for-profit Bristol Green Store. Now with the corner store gone and a large shop space I wanted to extend this into a community project offering free space hire, community discussions, project support and an alternative ‘corner shop’ option for people living in The Chessels (the area around the shop) that would fit with the overall sustainability ethos. I set up The Space to ‘house’ these projects separately from the main business, (which provides resources, the space and my time free of charge), to provide clarity and transparency about the not-for-profit status and the local focus.

Food @ The Space – beyond a food group

My initial motivation was to bring high quality food at affordable prices to the local area and to support local producers and businesses to keep more money in the local economy rather than sending it off to supermarket head offices. My aim was to find a workable model to coordinate bulk buying for up to 200 households in and around the shop. Without the money to simply stock the shelves, I needed a community model. First I looked into the two existing local food groups but soon discovered that neither group felt it feasible or desirable to grow beyond their existing size of 10–15 households. Because the usual model (see Essential article) involves each member taking a turn to coordinate the orders, payments, delivery and collection, once a group gets beyond this size it can become unworkable. When I explained to Essential and the local groups that I wanted to create a food project that could serve up to 200 households they helped highlight the constraints and crunch points of the current set-up so I could devise a new solution that would avoid these – removing the need for members to do the admin, collect payments, organise deliveries and divide up the order was going to be vital to making this work.

Food @ The Space is open to all local households in and around The Chessels, and membership is £5/year – members place orders monthly and collect their order, (packaged for them), the following week. Prices are a minimum saving of 10% off retail prices, and more for bulk items, with any surplus being saved up for new projects – we’re currently saving for a fridge and freezer to offer more local fresh produce.

Future orders
The idea going forward is that we will order in person each month (on a regular day that suits us) , saving me time & money by moving away from the online shop fees & the job of collating things myself, and saving all of us more money through a wider choice and more chances to share bulk items. Hopefully it’ll also be a more sociable experience and we can start to look at other opportunities to buy together – for example, from next week the shop will be a collection point for members of Sims Hill Shared Harvest veg boxes, which is an easy way to move over to super-local veg from a farm you are a member of!

Unpackaged stockFuture plans – beyond packaging

The long term goal for the project is to move beyond the need to order in advance and to offer food for members to buy in-store anytime, at the discount prices. From dried and tinned goods to food oils and fresh food such as Mark’s Bread, and Sims Hill Shared Harvest surplus, the aim will be to offer everything without packaging, to be weighed out and put into members’ own pots, bottles and bags. Members will also be able to volunteer in the shop in exchange for credits towards their own purchases. The inspiration for this came from the Green Tucker co-op shop I used to use in Sydney (www.greentucker.org.au) and Catherine’s fabulous Unpackaged (www.beunpackaged.com) in London – a place where you can refill everything from olive oil and balsamic vinegar to piccalilli and cider! In order to make this happen we need to build the existing group up to the full 200+ and then we can move towards our unpackaged dream.

Join up – beyond thinking

I’ve spent the past week dismantling the old Post Office counter office to make room for the food group shop, so all that’s needed now to bring our own ‘unpackaged’ shop to life are more lovely local members. If you’re interested in joining in, call in to the shop to sign up, collect details of the online shop and get going with your first order!

Emma Winfield: food@thespacebs3.org

The Space, BS3 is a not-for-profit run within, and fully supported by, The Natural Building Store, The Old Post Office, 109–111 Chessel Street, Bristol BS3 3DQ

This article originally appeared in Bristol’s local food update, May-June 2011.