Social Enterprise Rings Up Supermarket PlansNeil Hardie
The chief executive of a Forfar-based social enterprise has ambitious plans for its social supermarket venture.
Pauline Lockhart, of Community First UK, which started trading in 2016, wants to see a chain of S-Mart outlets in the area, with potential for nationwide expansion.
She said: “We are currently on track to have an S-Mart in four out of seven Angus towns within the next 18 months.
“Within five years, I’d like to see an S-Mart in every town across Angus, and the potential for S-Mart could be national.”
The CEO has had a long history of community work and engagement through 15 years in the communities team at Angus Council’s community learning and development department.
So how did Community First come about?
Pauline said: ” I’ve always had a passion, professionally and personally, to support my community – particularly those experiencing difficult times in their own lives.
“With an interest in business, I think it was a natural progression to start my own business that would have a social and environmental impact.
“As the driving force behind Community First, I invited a few others to form a board and begin shaping our operational activity with me.
“Initially we were being asked to support individuals and organisations with IT support, but this quickly evolved into a wider variety of needs.
“Members of our communities were finding it difficult to access support around a host of issues and needs which mainstream organisations were finding it difficult to provide due to lack of resource and other restrictions.
“We responded to our communities’ biggest need by combating food insecurity with Scotland’s first social supermarket, S-Mart, in Forfar.
“Pauline said the aim of S-Mart is to tackle food insecurity and food waste in a way that provides ease of access and dignity, so everyone feels welcome and able to benefit from what is on offer.
Shoppers at S-Mart have access to heavily-discounted food – products can be reduced by anything up to 50%.
Pauline added: “I wish our society had a fairer way to balance its resources, but I’m not surprised for a need for a model like S-Mart as the need to protect food supply in an affordable way is becoming harder as a result of the cost-of-living crisis.
“People are having to make very difficult decisions to provide a home, warmth and food on the table.
“They either have to buy food from mainstream supermarkets or find an alternative such as food banks, larders or community fridges.
“They need to turn to those alternatives, but they also need – for their self-esteem, mental health and dietary needs – an alternative. S-Mart is that alternative.”
The venture has almost 2,000 members – ranging from one individual in a household to families with up to 12 in a household.
Pauline said: “We find that many more working people are signing up and becoming members of S-Mart.
“We always say that we are just one crisis away from being pushed over the breadline.
“We’ve had two – Covid and now the cost-of-living crisis. People are being stretched and pushed way beyond their limits.”
There is now a Community First hub in Forfar which is home to S-Mart; BRAND, a climate-conscious clothing online store which is helping to tackle fast fashion; and the Little Green community cafe, which provides an affordable dining experience while reducing food waste even further by using surplus food from the social supermarket.
There is also an affordable community rental space.
Community First has been able to create 10 permanent jobs, plus 10 volunteer positions and also offers work experience to young people.
The community enterprise relies on a mixture of donations from the public, local business and funding from local and national funders as well as income generated from its business activity.
The goal however, is to become self-sustainable.