Shaunna Rushton from Cooperation Town thinks so. Here, she shares how she and her neighbours are taking back control through collective food organising
November 2020. Eight months into lockdown, the sounds of clapping in Walthamstow’s streets were a distant memory. And despite being involved in mutual aid-style groups – other than polite chats in the street – I didn’t really know my neighbours.
Then I came across Cooperation Town, a network of food co-ops. Each food co-op involves about 20 neighbours, saving money by all chipping in their time to source and organise free and affordable food – a combination of accessing food surplus supplies, and wholesale shopping.
We all need food, cheaper household costs and community, so I set off door-knocking on my street to see if anyone wanted to get involved. People would only open their door just an inch or two, but once I said: “I’m Shaunna from a few doors down!” – I found neighbours were keen to tell me their story of our street.
Within a month, we had formed Cooperation Walthamstow.
Rather than relying on food banks, we are able to work together, supporting each other to meet our needs. This means we get the food we want, rather than a ‘get what you’re given’ approach, which can feel almost like an additional punishment for being poor.
Getting to know your neighbours is how a food co-op starts, so only a couple of weeks before the December lockdown, we met in Stoneydown Park. Cooperation Town provided us with a ‘starter pack’ which helped us discover what being in a co-op really meant.
We were quickly thinking about what our community needs, rather than our individual wants. When some people suggested focusing on organic food, others pointed out this would be too expensive for some of us. This made our mission clear, organising together as neighbours to bring down our food bills.
So, how does it actually work? Every week, we receive a food delivery. Some of this food is bought in bulk by our members, though most is surplus food provided to our co-op by The Hornbeam Centre.
We have a rota and take turns to pack the food – which takes about an hour – and members come to pick-up that day. As well as packing food, we all put time into keeping the co-op going by taking on roles. There’s a treasurer, for example, who keeps us to our weekly food shopping budget.
We’ve been benefiting from cheaper food costs for months now – but Cooperation Walthamstow is about much more than food. Neighbours come to rely on each other in a way that is truly mutual. We’re a support network who can turn to each other for help, from childcare to housing problems.
Amazing groups in Waltham Forest, such as The Drive Free Food Stall and The Hornbeam, are joining the network of food co-ops across the UK – because like me they believe true community will thrive on our streets when we remove the divide of ‘recipient’ and ‘giver’.
Best of all? Anyone can join or start a food co-op on their street or estate.
Starting a food cooperative is about creating long-term resilience as a community and creating self-responsibility. This happens by every member (household) chipping in about an hour a week to run the co-op.
To learn more, or to get a starter pack, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit cooperation.town