Spar UK extends shopping support to national charities

Following the success of the shop and pay structure for people who are shielding introduced with Royal Voluntary Service under the NHS Volunteer Responders scheme last month, over 700 Spar stores in England and Wales are now also supporting volunteers for three additional national charities in order to support other vulnerable people.

Recognising how difficult it can be for older people who are too scared to go out and shop, or those who might need help in terms of accessibility or are blind or partially sighted, Spar has provided a list of stores that are able to work with charities in order to help vulnerable customers who cannot get out to shop for themselves.

As this move is a first for convenience retailing, along with RVS, volunteers are now working with Marie Curie, Parkinson’s UK and RNIB who can use designated Spar stores to shop for vulnerable people.

With the help of Defra, Spar has contacted a number of national charitable organisations to see how the convenience store chain could help those who are frightened or confused. As a result a number of independent Spar stores and company owned Spar stores serviced by three of Spar’s wholesalers in England and Wales, AF Blakemore & Son, Appleby Westward and James Hall & Co, have extended its shop and pay service to include volunteers from other charities.

Louise Hoste, managing director of Spar UK, said: “It is hugely important for those who are vulnerable to have access to food and deliveries. As our stores are situated in local communities, we are in an ideal position to actively promote how people can shop by using their volunteer network.

“When we heard how much pressure these charities are under trying to deal with the huge increase in the number of enquiries they are receiving, we extended our help to allow their volunteer networks to shop with ease in our stores.”

By instigating useful payment processes to support volunteers in participating stores, the seven charities taking part are encouraging their volunteers to use their local SPAR stores for their shopping.

“It’s unthinkable that someone today should feel helpless in their home and unable to have access to essential grocery items. Through the volunteer network we hope this will ease the stress and anxiety among people with on-going health and care needs.

“We have worked hard at providing our stores with the right information to help those who need it most at this time. Where possible we have adapted our payment services to allow volunteers to shop in our stores,” Hoste added.

SPAR stores have proven to be a life-line for people who are extremely vulnerable or self-isolating and unable to get to the shops by providing orders for delivery.

“In order to help shoppers who cannot visit stores, we have also introduced a telephone ordering service, telephone and collect or indeed a home delivery service in a number of stores,” said Hoste.

“The aim for our volunteer shopping support service is to make essential items available to those who need them the most. As local community SPAR stores, our first priority is to be there for all our customers.”

The government is encouraging those who are vulnerable and need help accessing food to refer themselves to the NHS Volunteer Responders programme by calling 0808 196 3646 to be connected with a local volunteer who can shop on their behalf.

Sam Ward, director of services and deputy CEO for Royal Voluntary Service, said: “Due to the success of the NHS Volunteer Responders programme, we are delighted to confirm that we are working with more charities to ensure the people they support are able to access the service. We can’t thank SPAR enough for actively promoting safe shopping for vulnerable people.”

Tom Heron from Spar’s national charity partner, Marie Curie said: “Marie Curie see huge potential in utilising Spar’s partnership with the Royal Voluntary Service, and we are exploring how the NHS Volunteer Responders service could benefit by enabling volunteers to shop on the behalf of terminally ill people unable to go the shops.”

Laura Cockram, head of policy and campaigns at Parkinson’s UK, said: “At the start of lockdown, we were inundated with calls from people with Parkinson’s who were having trouble getting online deliveries or were unable to get into supermarkets and couldn’t access food supplies any other way. Volunteers and initiatives like this are essential to ensure people have enough to eat, so it is fantastic to see Spar welcoming volunteers to help people with Parkinson’s at this difficult time. “In February of this year, Spar started to work with Alzheimer’s Society and a number of Spar store staff have joined the Dementia Friends movement.

Helen Foster, director of Operations at Alzheimer’s Society, said: “The stark reality is that the 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK have been hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic and the lack of social contact is having a devastating effect. In March and April alone, we received over 7,500 calls to our Dementia Connect Support Line from people desperately needing support. These calls are a life-line to many people affected by dementia, some who might live alone and find it difficult to access food and other essential supplies. We’re delighted that Spar have included people with dementia, and unpaid carers in this scheme, making it easier for our Dementia Advisers to signpost our service users to the NHS Volunteer Responders who are closely working alongside Spar to access shopping.”

This week (8-14 June) is Carers Week and Spar is supporting the campaign by using social media to drive the awareness of carers who may need support with their shopping needs in local communities. The group is urging people to pledge their support on the Carers Week website and have circulated ACS guidance to its retailers on how to recognise and support carers.

Helen Walker, chief executive of Carers UK, said: “Being able to access food quickly and easily has been especially important to unpaid carers during this pandemic. Many are caring for someone who has been shielding, or they will be shielding themselves, so getting food and other supplies from the shops has been a more tricky task than usual and for some it has caused a lot of stress. We are pleased that during Carers Week support is being extended so that unpaid carers and those they support can easily get the supplies they need.”