Supermarkets aren’t all bad. They bring employment opportunities for one, and there are other good things. For example, I recently discovered that Tesco’s (about which much bad stuff has been written, and mostly deservedly so) gives £10,000 a year to a charity that develops alternatives to animal use in medical research. Which made me see them in a more favourable light. Waitrose is well known for supporting local community projects, and the Co-op, well is a co-op – owned by staff and members and (as I’ve recently discovered) ploughing oodles of money straight back into local communities. Even Asda has gone up in my estimation recently, for stating that it will not be stocking milk that comes from badger killing zones. (Let’s not use the word ‘cull’, let’s call it what it is.)

However, I do worry about the decline of community shops, who have difficulty competing with the big stores – where customers can buy everything, and then some, under one roof. Community shops traditionally play a key role in connecting neighbours together. They are those ‘bumping spaces’ where people get to know one another, talk about the weather, and find out how old Mrs Miggins is getting on with her gammy knee. When you meet the same people in your local shop, you begin to develop a relationship with them. And, when people become friends, you’re more likely to look out for them. Supermarkets don’t foster this type of connection. My experience in supermarkets is more hostile than friendly – crowded places where Trolley Rage is an ever present threat.

Front of Gilbert's bakery

I was delighted when Pat from Gilberts bakery (1155 London Road, Leigh-on-Sea) offered to donate some rolls to Soup. I popped into the shop today to speak with her and to work out a plan. (Incidentally, the shelves in the photo look a tad bare as this was in the afternoon – they do tasty food that sells quickly.)

Gilberts is a good example of a proper community shop. Friendly, helpful and a place where the staff quickly learn your name. (Also, very yummy bread and oh-so-tempting cakes.) Pat was proud to tell me that the bakery has been in her husband’s family for 55 years. And they’re still going strong. Pat and her husband will be cooking a batch of delicious fresh rolls especially for Southend Soup. We are very grateful!

Window display of bread

A huge thank you to Pat and Gilbert’s. Long may they continue to contribute to the well-being of local people. If you live in Leigh, pop along for a crusty loaf, a naughty cake and, maybe, a chat with a neighbour.

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