It might be the UK’s “unhappiest place to live” according to a 2022 survey1, but God hasn’t given up on Rotherham, say local residents and Church Mission Society partners.
They are bringing hope to people who are struggling in this once-prosperous town through an innovative “social supermarket” based at Rotherham Minster.
Steve, a local man who is part of the social supermarket community, vouches for the difference it’s made in his life and in the local community: “If it weren’t for them, I don’t think I’d be here, to be honest with you.”
Having struggled for years with drug addiction, crime and homelessness, Steve had been contemplating suicide when he was befriended by Rev Ali Middleton and invited to join the social supermarket.
More than a market
A bit different to a food bank, the social supermarket operates through referrals. People become members for three months and pay a weekly fee of £3, which entitles them to a weekly shop for food and household essentials. As Ali and Steve point out, the supermarket is about more than food – it’s become a community.
Steve says: “It’s great, honestly. It helps a lot of people. And it’s like a gathering. We get talking, we have a cup of coffee and it’s a lovely day out.”
Ali explains that food poverty is only one aspect of Rotherham residents’ unhappiness: “Many of our members are on the edge financially. They can feel forgotten and perplexed by a system that has failed them. People are wanting different lives; they just need a helping hand.”
Social supermarket members can access help with money management, be connected with other organisations including the Citizens Advice Bureau and join a cooking course to help make the most of the food they’ve acquired. Ali says, “We try to make it so that we’re being with people rather than doing for people.”
Self-described “Rotherham lass born and bred” Claire came to the supermarket to help members with budget management, but she found herself enjoying the interaction. Though she’d never pictured herself in church, she became curious about faith and began coming to additional Thursday group meetings that Ali started for people who wanted to ask questions about God.
Claire recounts, “Before I was lost and I didn’t have a purpose, but now I can be myself. I’m so happy now … I came for a job … but I’ve gained a family!”
Steve is part of the Thursday group, too, where he’s found friends and faith: “Jesus has made a big difference to my life. I may have turned my back on God, but God never turned his back on me.”
Unhappily ever after?
Ali, a graduate of CMS’s pioneer mission training and associate vicar at Rotherham Minster and St Paul’s Masbrough, recognises that Rotherham has seen better days in terms of industry, material wealth and wellbeing, yet she has hope for this “unhappy” place: “I think for the future of Rotherham, I would love to see the dreams of people to be realised. That people will be able to grow and develop and that the community would lose this narrative of hopelessness and actually see hope.”
The social supermarket has been highlighted as part of CMS’s Jesus Never Gives Up campaign, which is urging Christians to connect with people at the edges of society – those who might have given up on God. The campaign seeks to inspire hope by spotlighting examples where God is making a difference, transforming lives and communities for the better.
Jonny Baker, CMS’s Britain Hub Director, said; “The vast majority of people in the UK do not go to church and say they are unlikely to do so. They may have ‘given up’ on God but we want the UK to know that ‘God hasn’t given up on them.”
For more information about the ‘Jesus Never Gives Up’ campaign visit: churchmissionsociety.org/jesus-never-gives-up
1The Happy at Home survey was carried out in 2022 by the property website, Rightmove, and sought the views of 21,000 people. Rotherham was ranked last out of 221 locations.