Dire Straits for Cowley’s People’s Supermarket

Local News News
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PHOTO//Andrew Walmsley

The Oxford People’s Supermarket has this week faced the prospect of closure, having fallen upon financial difficulties.

£20,000 in donations are required from members in order to ensure the long-term survival of the enterprise, with donors receiving shopping vouchers and shares in TPS. Unless these funds are raised successfully in 60 days, the existing board of the supermarket will be required to stand down and an administrator will be brought in. The current Honorary General Manager of the co-operative has decided to step down from his position next week, and paid staff have been given notice of redundancy.

The supermarket, which recently celebrated its first birthday, is owned and run by a team of volunteers and shareholding members from both the local community and student body. The Cowley Road enterprise aims to sell locally and ethically sourced groceries at fair prices, and was originally established under the slogan “for the people, by the people”, based on a similar supermarket in London.

A board meeting held by directors on 30 July concluded that problems with the supermarket’s cash flow and low takings are making its current business model unviable, as there are insufficient assets necessary for making long term investments.

Hannah Hoechner, member of the supermarket and St Cross student explained: “We do not have adequate cooling facilities and good enough ventilation in the shop to stock a lot of fruit and vegetables. We would like to offer a broader range of products, including more local products, but we don’t have the necessary cash to improve our storage facilities and to stock up.”

She added: “It has been difficult for us to increase our sales and turnover after the fire at Cycle King’s next door in March. The pavement was closed, which kept customers away and brought down our sales.”

Oxford students who are currently members and customers of the co-operative, expressed their disappointment at the prospect of closure.

Rebecca Roughan, student at Regent’s Park and non-active member of The People’s Supermarket commented: “It’s really sad to see TPS falling apart because it just shows how overwhelming the chain supermarket’s chokehold on the industry really is.”

She added: “If such a widely supported community project cannot thrive against the [Tesco] man then what hope is there for the rest of the local shops? Plus they never gave you change in all 5ps.”

Abigail Burman, first year student at Corpus Christi and customer of The People’s Supermarket, commented: “I really hope it doesn’t close. The market is only once a week, and the local farmers’ market is only once every two weeks, so they’re the only place in Oxford that regularly has affordable local produce. I do almost all of my shopping there during term time.”

An ‘Extraordinary General Meeting’ was held on Friday night to assess the financial situation. Following the meeting, in a message to members and volunteers, the supermarket’s board of directors requested their assistance with drafting a new business plan, and in assessing the profitability of its products. An additional meeting is due to be held next week to consider the issue further.

The People’s Supermarket is now aiming to raise funds through crowdsourcing platform Buzzbnk. Donations can be made at: www.buzzbnk.org/tpsoxford