Nine Antrim and Newtownabbey community groups to aid ‘social supermarket’ scheme

Nine community groups in Antrim and Newtownabbey are to be asked to distribute almost £100k of grant aid to residents in need ahead of the development of a ‘social supermarket’ in the borough.

Wednesday, 10th November 2021, 8:48 am

The sum of £95,558 from the COVID-19 Community Support Fund was awarded to the borough council by the Department for Communities (DfC) for distribution locally.

It is expected that the groups will also be involved in the development of a social supermarket which will be open to those receiving welfare payments and tax credits.

Five social supermarkets funded by DfC opened in Northern Ireland in 2018 with food supplied by the Fareshare charity, an organisation which distributes surplus food from supermarkets, suppliers and manufacturers to charities.

Almost £100k of grant aid is due to be distributed in the community.

Newtownabbey Foodbank says that demand has doubled during the Covid pandemic with an overall increase of 171 per cent in Northern Ireland with Antrim Foodbank reporting that one fifth of children, 4,549 in South Antrim, were living in poverty in 2019/20.

It is understood that 134,070 people in Northern Ireland are currently in receipt of Universal Credit, one third of whom is in work.

Councillors were told at a meeting of Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council’s Community Planning Committee on Monday evening that DfC is to provide further financial assistance to develop social supermarkets regionally.

Speaking at the meeting, Glengormley Alliance Alderman Julian McGrath commented: “£95,000 for essential supply funding is not a huge amount of money. There needs to be a targeted response to food poverty.

“These community groups have been on the front line in delivering for the community. To means test will put a huge pressure on them. I would like for other agencies to be brought in. Schools are very well placed. ”

He pointed out that schools have a free meals register to draw on. He suggested that Advice NI and churches could also be involved and underlined the need for funds to be distributed without delay.

He questioned the need for a £10k consultant saying that there are “consultants on the ground already”, such as schools and community workers,

“They are going to be given a wad of money with huge pressure as to who will get it,” he added.

Antrim DUP Councillor Paul Dunlop BEM remarked that “schools have enough on their plates dealing with Covid”.

He recalled that the Food Pallet Scheme was rolled out during the first  lockdown using a database of those within the community who needed  this support.

He noted that these nine groups had been involved and “hit the ground running” together with other community volunteers.

“We should not be forgetting what these groups delivered,” he stated.

He said he was happy to propose the council officer’s recommendation as it stood to make nine direct awards of £9,500 to the groups that participated in DfC’s Food Pallet Scheme. The remaining £10,058.21 will be used to engage a consultant to work with these groups to develop a model for a future social supermarkets for the borough.

The nine groups named by the council are: Monkstown Community Association,  Women’s Aid, Listening Ear, Oasis Antrim, Community Relations Forum, TIDAL, First Randalstown Presbyterian Church – The Jam Store, A Safe Space to be Me and Whiteabbey Community Group.

Ald McGrath continued: “I agree with everything Cllr Dunlop said. I do think they need support and deserve it. I am saying they need more support in terms of delivery.”

He went on to say he did not think 10 per cent of money “meant to go to food poverty” needs to be spent on a consultant when there are “people on the ground”.

Glengormley Sinn Fein Cllr Michael Goodman said that he does not want to hold up funding but he does not want to pay £10k for a consultant.

“But to have to now go out to recruit schools and whoever else to support these groups in itself will be a massive undertaking while you have people who need support from community organisations.

“We do not have time to recruit schools and other organisations to provide support. I would be happy to second the proposal from Cllr Dunlop.”

Ursula Fay, deputy director of Community Planning, confirmed that the council is “short of time” and the funding is “end of year sensitive” adding that council officers have been involved with the support hub with  community groups during the pandemic.

“With regard to the amount spent on a consultant, the Department is looking at investing in social supermarkets, long term sustainable assistance,  arising from food poverty with an investment in the borough to provide a solution long term for food poverty.”

Deputy Mayor Cllr Stephen Ross, a Threemileewater DUP representative, commented: “I am no great fan of consultants but with the timescale of the funding, it would be really difficult to have this rolled out.”

Threemilewater Alliance Cllr Julie Gilmour asked for information to be forwarded to schools to make them aware of the plans and how they can “refer into those groups”.

Cllr Dunlop’s proposal to accept the council officer’s recommendation was seconded by Cllr Goodman.

Michelle Weir, Local Democracy Reporter

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