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  • Annette Holman

Trialling ways supermarkets can play ‘host’ for local community activities to encourage more social connection.

Supermarkets are part of most peoples' routine, a place where you go on a regular basis, in a familiar environment, where you get to tick off something from your to-do list.

Yet, the importance of shops is key for many people's social interaction. With our ever-pressing fast-paced and automated lives, the beauty of small interactions or opportunities for conversation are not prioritised.

The space inside many of these stores is vast, yet we find there is also under utilised space, with empty cafes, concession stores or just large areas where stock rotates on a regular basis. 

At Neighbourly Lab, we believe there is enormous untapped potential in transforming these spaces into meeting and connection areas, for customers and the community. This would benefit the shopping experience, bring community activities and opportunities to those in the store and create an opportunity for supermarkets to play their role as a key part of social infrastructure across the UK.

The current context

There are some great examples of how supermarkets have used their space for the community in their cafes such as community cafes and talking tables initiatives and designed rooms for hire as part of Asdas Community Spaces and Places initiative. Plus examples of responding to the needs and wishes of the community such as through Chatty tills aimed at tacking loneliness to opportunities and quiet shopping hours aimed at creating a “sensory-friendly” experience for those who struggle with noisy environments. 

All are great ideas and initiatives of supermarkets offering support for their local community to address issues from isolation and loneliness to offering free space for community groups to meet.  

However, we believe this could be taken further. What if your local supermarket used their space to host community events, gatherings and opportunities for social connection on a regular basis - That you could combine local engagement and support with your regular shop?  What if these opportunities were at the place you regularly went rather than having to find time to fit something else in, to find this in a place?

The idea we want to test…

We want to test ways to create community spaces in stores, to help reach and signpost customers to support and foster more social connection by: 

  • Working with supermarkets with a variety of underutilised spaces

  • To create a community space with a formatted timetable of activities 

  • By making this easy and attractive to utilise the space with and for the community.

  • To support the health and wellbeing of community members 

We think the way to embed this idea is by creating easy to run sessions and implementing them into a community timetable for the store.

  1. Community Timetable

We are used to time capture through our everyday lives such as school timetables or work schedules. Think of your local swimming pool. - It may be open 6am - 9pm and you could visit anytime in the day. However, what makes a visit more appealing is when sessions are broken down into both time slots and types of activities:  A parent and toddler session at 10am on Mondays, adult swimming lanes 1-3pm every afternoon or aqua aerobics 7-8 on a Wednesday. All of these appeal to different people but would not all work by happening at the same time.

Even at your local pub, you’ll see a timetable there with events and offers on for different nights of the week. This structure helps us plan our own calendars

A Pool timetable at Inverclyde leisure - Port Glasgow and ‘What's on’ blackboard describing activities across a week in a London bar.

This use of timetabling we believe could work in a supermarket space. By formatting and timetabling activities, supermarkets could have a list of events, opportunities and activities on offer in an easy formatted way to offer for customers to be involved with.

All of which could bring back some spark into supermarkets and enable customers to find further community support, opportunities all to better support social connection. 

2. Easy to run sessions

Secondly, these activities in the timetable need to be simple to run. How do you make things easy? Provide a starting point and instruction. If you are unsure what to buy and prepare for dinner then a cook-at-home meal can offer all the ingredients needed with a recipe. Anyone can then pick it up and follow the instructions to create a meal.

This is the concept we want to trail by creating  ‘activities in a box’ which can be rolled out to run events in store. Creating a box where everything you need to run that event is inside making it easy for anyone to run.

We want to support the roles of community champions and other staff in engaging with activities too by co-designing these with them which they can use to run successful engaging sessions.

We believe that whatever activities fill the community timetable, they need to be easy to run. This can be done by inviting Voluntary, Community, Faith and Social Enterprise (VCFSE) organisations and public sector teams to utilise the space to engage with residents in a place they regularly visit and feel comfortable in.

Trialling in a supermarket

So over the next 6 months we are trialling this concept in the following stages:

  • Step 1 - Listening - Hearing from customers about what type of community organisations, opportunities and spaces they want to see in their supermarket

  • Step 2 - Invite community organisations in- Engaging VCFSE organisations and public sector to take on a slot on a weekly/fortnightly basis to reach more people in the community to support and or share their work offering an opportunity to connect with others or utilise the space to foster stronger community engagement.

  • Step 3 - Create ‘activities in a box’ - Co-designed with the stores Community Champion and staff to create engaging activities to easily be run in store. 

  • Step 4 -  Filling the timetable with activities and organisations - Adding opportunities from VCFSE’s, public sector and staff led engagement to a weekly timetable.

  • Step 5 - Evaluating the impact and sustainability - measuring the impact of the trials for customers, staff, VCFSE, public sector and the supermarket itself and sharing learning on how other stores can imbed this model.

We are excited to be kicking off trials with both Asda and Tesco stores in Maryhill in Glasgow in June with stores in Birmingham to soon follow in the summer.

With thanks to the National Lottery Community Fund for the opportunity to test this approach as part of the Bringing People Together Fund.

How to get involved

Please get in touch with and Follow us on LinkedIn. Insights will be shared later in the year so watch this space. 

Read about our other project in shops looking at the role of convenience stores delivering public health messaging

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