The Morecambe outlet

Jay, the manager, and volunteers Jean, Adele, and Yannick outide the Morecambe outlet.

Ever since we set up the hub in Lancaster  we knew we needed a similar place for our Morecambe members. The Morecambe outlet, Food-People-Community, is a joint project with Stanleys Community Centre, funded by Food Power/Sustain and West End Morecambe Big Local. We got a lot of support from Lancaster City Council Housing Department; their staff members Dave Hayhurst and Dave Ferguson (with help from Stephen, the shop’s landlord) spent a month doing the clearing, joinery, counters, and painting to transform the space from a crowded antique shop to a place where members could walk through (keeping social distance) and choose their food. 

The Manager, Jay Godden, has taken time from his very busy schedule to tell us what it is like now that it is operating:

The outlet in Morecambe has been open for almost two months now if you can believe it! It feels like only last week I was pulling together all of our food safety documentation and our training policies for our volunteers. The outlet has been a massive (and busy) success, growing from about a hundred weekly members in January, to now being well over two hundred. It’s all been made possible from the hugely generous work of our volunteers, who have worked tirelessly counting stock, shifting crates about like Tetris to fit all the food in the small space, as well as developing new ideas to make the service better. Thank you all.

A big challenge here has been the storage space. I’ve been very used to the massive warehouse at Lancaster, so downsizing to just the shop counter has been difficult. My office has been overrun with eggs and spaghetti hoops, and we had the ever-industrious Dave Hayhurst and Dave Ferguson back from the Lancaster City Council to convert our disused outhouse into some much-needed shelf space (Thanks!).

Also challenging, as expected, has been stock management. Eggcup relies so heavily on surplus food, we never know what a delivery is going to contain, and this can be a little daunting! On Monday mornings our fabulous van drivers head down to Preston to collect fresh produce from FareShare’s depot there. They bring the food back to the warehouse where it is quality checked, temperature controlled, processed, and counted. Half of this then gets loaded back onto the van and heads to the shop at Morecambe. This usually gives us about 2 hours to go from empty shop and full van, to a shop full of produce, along with a detailed plan of how to allocate it in a way that maintains equity between our members and reduces our food waste as much as possible.

How do you divide 40 tins of spam among 60 people? Well, sometimes you have to offer people a choice between spam and something you predict will be similarly popular. This is difficult, I would probably rather have tomato soup than spam (mostly because I don’t eat much meat), but it may turn out that members that week are particularly hungering for cereal and coffee. It’s difficult to know, and we make edits to what’s on offer throughout the day, doing lots of stock-taking and estimating and dividing between the number of members left to come, again trying to keep that balance between equity and food waste. To minimise food waste, we could just offer everyone as much as they want of everything, but this would leave members later on in the day with a poor selection, so it is not equitable! Equally, we could only give everyone one option out of a few items, this would mean everyone had exactly the same, but we would end up with lots left over that we would have to waste instead of getting it to people to be eaten! This means in practice a delicate balance of underestimating and overestimating and reassessing throughout the day.

We’ve also started running various weekly cycles, to make sure that the options on different days are as equal as possible, without all of the most popular products always being chosen by the same people on certain days. Instead we spread out the options, so that over a 2 week period everyone’s membership is as fair as possible.

It’s been fantastic being able to have contact with so many new members, my time spent at the welcome desk chatting with our users has been really lovely, and also provided some fantastic organic feedback about how we can improve the service going forward, and what the user experience is like.

In the pipeline for next month, we are hoping to really consolidate our position, get more volunteers involved and get into a regular (or as regular as it can be with surplus!) routine of providing excellent service and keeping our customers and our food safe. Covid has not been as problematic as I thought it could have been. Everyone understands the rules well, and everyone is very respectful about following the guidance to the best of their abilities. I carry out regular updates to our Covid risk assessment, trying to think of more ways to reduce the risk to myself, volunteers, users and their households, and delivery drivers. The worst thing about Covid at the shop is that we have to leave the front door open for ventilation, making the entrance area very cold on some days! I like the welcoming feel it has though. I think I’ll keep the door open through summer, even if Covid doesn’t mean I have to.

Thank, Jay, and we look forward to hearing how the Morecambe outlet develops.