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Buy one, bank one

A small chippy in Llanharan, Wales, is making a big difference to its local community by introducing a suspended food scheme which buys fish and chips for those that can’t afford it. Pam Uppal, owner of Bryncae Fish Bar, explains how it works

How did you get into the fish and chip trade?

My family has been in the trade for about 34 years now. My husband and I bought our first shop 14 years ago in a little village called Tynant and then about eight years ago we came to Llanharan and opened this one.

Have you always been involved in the local community?

Yes, in a number of ways. I’m on the community council plus I also get a lot of people coming to me and asking me to sponsor this or give a raffle prize for that.

Do you feel it’s important for community businesses to give back?

Yes, absolutely but it has got more difficult over recent years to do this. I also run a convenience store in the same town and since a Co-op opened up across the road we’ve really been suffering. It has literally taken 50% of my business. It took 70% initially but we’ve managed to get 20% back. So I’ve had to turn some people away for sponsorship and I do feel terrible for that. In the chip shop I still try and do my bit and offer raffle prizes for local charities. The profit margins are that bit higher so if we give away free fish and chips it’s not such a big deal as giving away a bottle of wine in the convenience store.

So where did the idea for the suspended food scheme come from and what is it?

It’s a way by which customers, when they buy their own food, can pay for a meal, or a bag of chips or cup of coffee, in advance for someone in the local community who might be in need. Because I’ve been turning people away for sponsorship and things, I’ve been thinking of other ways to help. Plus, there’s a gentleman that has lived in the village for 15 years and he’s been coming here for a long, long time. He used to be a very fit and well man, he was married and he used to work, but then his wife passed away and he went downhill. He wasn't eating vey well and he never had a lot of money, so when he came into the fish and chip shop I started giving him a meal myself, then he was coming in twice a day, so I started giving him a meal in the morning and evening. It started with chips and then went to pie and chips, then fish and chips and I thought I want to do this but I don’t know if I can carry on. A customer called Brian Price asked me if there was any way he could give some money and pay for his food and I take it out of that. I had to say no as I didn’t have the facility to do it. I was watching a TV programme recently about poverty in the UK and how families go to food banks more now and I thought I really want to give Brian's idea a go. There is someone that wants to do this, so how can I take this further?

What did you do?

I spoke to  friend of mine, Adrian Curtis, who started up the Trussell Food Bank locally here. People are referred by social services to the food bank so he suggested I set up a direct link with it. So now I let the food bank know how much is in the pot, they assign that money to those in need and send me an email with the name of the person and the value of the food to give them. That person or family then come in to the chip shop with a voucher from the food bank and I issue the food.

How do you keep a record of who has given what?

I’ve got a book by the side of the till and when someone makes a donation I put the name of the person, a telephone number and the amount they have donated in that book. The amount is run through the till and the customer is given a receipt for the amount because I don’t want anyone pointing fingers at me. I knew this needed to be done in a totally transparent and fair way. When the customer comes in with the voucher from the food bank, I staple that to the back of the book and we write in what they have had and what was spent. That way everything tallies up.

How are you raising awareness of the suspended food scheme to customers?

I’ve put details on Facebook so that customers know they can donate. So far it’s had 25 shares and about 14,000 people have seen it. I also have a sign up in the chippy saying if you are in need of food, come and speak to a member of staff so we can refer you to the food bank. It’s amazing how generous people have been. Some are people that I know have struggled themselves who have been in the convenience store and not been able to pay for a loaf of bread, and now they are coming in to the chippy and saying ‘look there’s £2, give someone a bag of chips’. Customers have asked if it’s something they have to do weekly and I’ve said no, not at all, do it as a one-off if you like, as anything is better than nothing.

How much has been donated so far?

I’ve got £75 in the pot so far, which is amazing. One person donated a big chunk of that, another lady came in and gave me £5 while lots of others have said they will definitely put in when they are in next.

And the feedback has all been positive?

Yes, mostly. We have had some feedback saying fish and chips isn’t very healthy and that it’s not a necessity, it’s a luxury, but that’s not up to us to decide. If it’s a child’s birthday and the parents want to treat them then the Trussell Food Bank will say ‘here’s £10, go and spend it in the fish and chip shop and all have a treat’. Someone else did question who would benefit more, the customer or the till, which is why I’ve been open and transparent about everything. I’m just so excited about it and I’m really grateful to Brian for giving me the idea. There are a lot of people locally that I think we can help, and a lot of children who could do with a treat now and again.

Are there any tax implications to the scheme?

No, because it’s the customer that is paying and it’s going through my till as a sale, so the VAT is still being paid. I deliberately wanted to keep it as simple as possible.

What will you do if you have more money donated than is handed out?

I have thought about that and what I could do is put it towards groceries in the convenience store and donate that to the food bank so that the money is getting spent where it needs to. But what I would really like to do is help other shops set up a similar scheme by saying here’s £100, get it started. The more people that do it, the better and hopefully we can improve it as it’s not totally tried and tested yet, so if there’s a better way to do it, I’m happy to hear it.

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