Written by Julianne Noon, Co-op Member

First published at ‘It’s all being made possible by Co-op Members like me’ | Co-op Blog (coop.co.uk)

I was excited to learn about Co-op’s new partnership with Your Local Pantry – a community project that aims to strengthen communities, foster friendships and contribute to healthier, happier lives. And it’s all being made possible by Co-op Members just like me.

Funded through the Community Partnership Fund, the partnership will see the Your Local Pantry network triple within three years from 75 to 225 pantries across the UK. It aims to help improve household finances, whilst bringing people together around food.

It’s something I’d have really valued and benefited from during the pandemic when, like many others, I struggled financially, and now as we face into a cost-of-living crisis too.

During the pandemic, I was a teaching assistant at a primary school, and I never thought there’d be a time when I’d be unable to go into a classroom. Although I mostly worked full-time, I was on a part-time contract, so when restrictions hit, I found myself having to manage on a much tighter budget.

Once I had paid my rent and household bills, I had a very limited amount of money left. I had to make tough choices where that money was spent and what was a priority, meaning I sometimes had to say no to attending places and events.

I live in a small town, and there’s still so much stigma around using foodbanks, and I didn’t want to admit that I needed help.

Pantries work differently. You pay a small subscription of a few pounds a week to become a member of a pantry and in return you choose groceries worth much more. The great thing about pantries is that anyone can be a member and use one. And because you are contributing to the food you receive; you lose that stigma too.

When I heard a Your Local Pantry had opened in Middleton, Greater Manchester, I just had to visit.

The pantry looks just like a grocery shop, and that’s essentially what it is. The pantry is inviting, small and private when compared to your average supermarket. I was blown away by the variety of food available, and the fact you can get fruit and vegetables for free. And, because it is on my doorstep, the pantry has a nice community vibe too.

While I was there, around 30 other people came in to shop and volunteers were on hand to help and even give cooking tips.

And, because the Middleton pantry is part of The Lighthouse Project – a neighbourhood hub – it also offers a whole range of other support services too.

I really struggled with my wellbeing. anxiety and depression during the pandemic but knowing I could enjoy a cup of tea and a chat in a warm, friendly environment while quietly doing my shopping, would have really helped me get through those tough times.

By becoming a pantry member, you no longer need to worry about food. Instead, you can focus on the things that matter to you.

I’ve really turned my life around. I’ve got my own photography business, I’ve set up a walking group to help support my own and other peoples’ wellbeing, and I even met my husband – ironically in a shop, but not Co-op! I just feel so much happier and healthier.

I’ve been telling my friends and family all about Your Local Pantries and how easy it is for Co-op Members to raise funds to support community projects like this.

Until now, I had never really considered how, just by shopping at Co-op and swiping my membership card at the checkout, I was helping to fund the work that Co-op does in communities.

To know when I buy my everyday essentials like bread and milk, I’m also giving 2p for every £1 I spend to communities makes me feel like I’m doing my bit and giving something back.

If you’re not yet a Co-op Member, you can become a member and support amazing projects like this. You can also check the Your Local Pantry website to see if you have a pantry near you or find how you go about setting one up in your community.

It’s really opened my eyes to the big impact and difference I can make as a Co-op Member in my local area and communities across the UK too.

By becoming a pantry member, you no longer need to worry about food. Instead, you can focus on the things that matter to you.

Julianne Noon