Covid-19 led us to close our Kettering and Northampton community shops, as well as our community cafes: Elsie’s and Cafe Zero and end work with a number of affiliate cafes. After sustained loss of earnings for our social enterprise during the pandemic, only the Northampton Shop Zero reopened. At the beginning of 2022, it was relocated from St.James to Headlands.

At the start of the pandemic, when we had three community cafes (and affiliates) and two shops, we had requests to help night shelters, charities and refuges whose food supplies dried up overnight. The CIC pivoted in days to sharing all its collected food surplus with up to 12 food banks and new mutual aid groups in Northampton and Kettering, at no cost to them. The volunteers worked heroically, despite the risk, to collect and deliver food out to so many projects… supplying tens of thousands of meals for people in our community at their time of need.

We observed longer lockdowns in the community buildings than in the wider community and this frustrated some cafe customers and volunteers keen to see us reopen. In the shared community spaces where are cafes operated, this was also because landlords sought to protect vulnerable people. The shared Kettering site was closed by the landlord permanently.

We used our commercial premises – Shop Zero Northampton – to store food at scale to share with charities and food banks, making public entry hard. We used the space outside the shop to enable us to comply with the regulations and so that customers, staff and volunteers stayed safe before eventually, and cautiously, welcoming the public back in.

The pandemic meant a sudden and dramatic loss of earnings for our social enterprise and the directors and our advisory board decided not to take the financial risk of reopening the cafes or to re-sign the lease of the commercial at St.James. In the prevailing climate, and with fluctuating supply chains, the cost and terms of a new six year lease were too great for our volunteer management/directors. They had already taken on the liability of keeping operations going throughout the pandemic.

In January, 2022, the team moved us out of St.James and into our bigger and more suitable space in The Headlands. The ease of access for collectors and deliveries, the car parking for customers and sense of community have been amazing. The former URC church also provides us with the hub to integrate a garden, talks and other projects alongside Shop Zero.

We have appreciated the outpouring of support and the team face the future positively.