Kent: Local area innovation

What was the issue?

The Social Innovation Lab for Kent (SILK) was set up with the aim of supporting sustainable community-led projects that could help low-income families. In particular those families living in Parkwood, a council estate in Maidstone, where local people felt particularly disempowered and frustrated with local service provision.

Parkwood is an isolated area with minimal public transport links. There is a parade of shops in the area but these tend to be more expensive than the supermarkets located a few miles away. Those who don’t have access to a car find it harder to benefit from the cheaper prices of supermarkets.

Jackie, a local resident and inspirational single mum of five, came up with the idea to set up a community shop that would provide ‘bulky’ items at a cheaper price in the vicinity of the estate. This community shop would provide low-income residents with the option to volunteer to develop new skills and would create a community hub to help low-income families save time and money.

What were the barriers?

The volunteers working in the community shop mentioned some of the obstacles they have overcome successfully, including:

  • negotiating a venue that could be used in future without charge
  • engaging with local businesses and ensuring they were on board
  • getting a customer base
  • starting to trade
  • influencing other communities in the same position
  • demonstrating that customers make financial as well as time savings.

What was the solution?

The volunteers used a fairly modest amount of funding to secure a venue that would not require future rent. The team negotiated with a local school and agreed to help refurbish an unused room in exchange for free use of the room. This enabled the shop to be sustainable. They also worked with a local business enterprise gateway to engage the community and local businesses (holding weekly meetings to get ideas and keep interest before they began trading). A number of events were organised before the shop opened to ensure they were buying the articles people wanted and needed. They also worked with health and other agencies to turn the room they were using into a community hub. 

What was the outcome?

The shop has been trading since May 2010 and has already had positive outcomes in terms of the volunteer team’s achievements and the cost-saving benefits for the community, as well as inspiring other communities around the country.

The shop has 100 customers registered on Facebook and the volunteers who are involved have received training and support from a range of agencies to be able to successfully take the work forward. There has been national (Camden) and international interest from Denmark and France considering the development of similar initiatives in collaboration with the Parkwood team.

We estimate that by using the community shop to buy everyday items like washing powder, baby wipes, nappies, bleach, washing up liquid and drinking squash, families can save up to £31.42 per family per month  (based on September 2010 prices in the local supermarket), which could be as much as £501.60 per family per year. In addition families benefit from savings on transport, for example an adult return is £3.50 and 50p + per child which, when making numerous trips, can have an impact on the weekly budget.

In terms of the impact it has had on the team themselves Jackie said:

The confidence that this project has given me has been mind-blowing, from just being able to work in a group to being able to stand in front of people and be able to give a speech. I have learnt to set myself targets and overcome hurdles I wouldn’t usually be able to overcome without the lessons I have learnt since the very beginning of the project. The people I have met through the whole experience have been fantastic, I have met people and had conversations very easily with people I wouldn’t normally socialise with.

Being a single parent, some people put you in a certain category and class you as not having a brain outside of motherhood and I hope I can set an example that we can do things given half the chance and given the time to do it. The team I have come to lead have also had to combat hurdles themselves and I am very proud of them and it is great working with them. It helps that the support we are given is from very friendly people that I feel comfortable around and I am glad we have all met. It’s not just the smiles we get back from them, it’s the advice they give us in order for us to accomplish what we want. I am so glad that this opportunity has come up for the team and myself and its great to hear all the positive feedback we’re getting and I do think the hard work being put in by the team will give us positive rewards for ‘R Shop’.

Jackie Pye, Managing Director

Contact details

Vicky Butler
Social Innovation Lab
Email: Vicky.butler@kent.gov.uk

Esther Hamilton
Project Officer, The Innovation Pilot
Telephone: 07545 419 321
Email: esther.hamilton@kent.gov.uk