South Tyneside charity Key is celebrating bringing its Community Bus initiative to fruition thanks to a significant grant from The National Lottery Community Fund, the largest funder of community activity in the UK.
The funding, awarded over three years, has been used to convert and fit out a double-decker bus into a mobile food service and contribute to associated overheads and running costs.
The bus will be a hub for the community, resetting grocery shopping for South Tynesiders by providing a shopping experience beyond the transaction. In addition to affordable, good-quality food on the lower deck, specialist advice services and community activities will be offered on the upper deck.
Living through COVID-19 has forced consumers to rethink how they shop and eat and what and where they buy. Research has shown that they now value convenience, community, inspiration and sustainability and want grocery retailers to help them change how they live, shop or eat. Key’s Community Bus taps into this unmet demand.
The main aims of the project are severalfold: ensuring access to affordable food for all; increasing food choice and reducing food waste; improving health and wellbeing; supporting self-sufficiency; reconnecting people and reducing social isolation; building partnerships to provide bus-based information, advice, and support services; and creating employment, work experience and volunteering opportunities for Key beneficiaries.
The bus will serve communities across South Tyneside, calling at areas where there is most need, including ‘food deserts’ with little or no access to affordable and healthy food and ‘food swamps’ where unhealthy food options prevail over healthy ones. Anyone who values convenience, connection with their local community, or is focussed on sustainability is welcome on board, whatever their circumstances.
Key’s Community Bus team will partner with other organisations to add value to existing services and avoid duplication, and where possible, avoid negative impact on local food retailers.
Stagecoach generously donated the double-decker bus, and Ryder Architecture pledged its architectural services pro bono.
Following receipt of the funding last summer, the bus transferred from Stagecoach South Shields Depot to North West England to be fitted out by Blackpool Design Coachbuilders, specialists in bus and coach conversion, refurbishment and repairs.
Conversion is now complete, with the bus delivered back to South Tyneside to become operational over the summer.
Recruitment has commenced for two bus drivers and a bus worker to staff the bus; visit keycommunity.org.uk/jobs for details.
This latest stage marks the culmination of a two-year effort to plan, develop and launch the bus as a welcoming, dignified, and compassionate resource for the community.
Phase one, funded by Feeding Britain, saw the appointment of a Bus Project Development Officer (part-time) who conducted a feasibility study to evaluate whether the project plan could be successful.
Phase two, funded by the Community Foundation Tyne & Wear and Northumberland, concentrated on securing funding and ensuring operational readiness. The final stage will focus on the project’s long-term success.
Jo Benham Brown, Business Development and Communities Manager at Key, said: “Our Key Community Bus is a bold and innovative approach to ensure all residents can shop for less, reduce food waste, access support, and build connections, whatever their circumstances, making for a happier, healthier South Tyneside.”
“The project is a direct development based on the experience, learning and expertise we have acquired sourcing, managing and distributing food across South Tyneside and will provide valuable work experience opportunities for the young people we support. We’re very much looking forward to welcoming our community on board.”
Duncan Nicholson, Head of Regional Funding for North East and Cumbria at The National Lottery Community Fund, said: “We’re delighted to be supporting Key Community and their aspirations of creating a ‘Community Food Bus’. Thanks to National Lottery players, this new funding will be able to help create a hub for the community for people across South Tyneside to access affordable food and provisions, reducing food waste in the area, and improving local people’s life chances through vital support and advocacy services.”