Spar in England and Wales has extended the number of charities it is working with to support volunteers shopping on behalf of vulnerable customers.

SPAR supports national charities

Following the initial success of a shopping and payment structure for people who are shielding introduced with Royal Voluntary Service under the NHS Volunteer Responders scheme last month, volunteers from Marie Curie, Parkinson’s UK and RNIB can also now use designated Spar stores to shop for vulnerable people.

Over 700 stores, comprising both independent and company-owned Spar branches serviced by wholesalers AF Blakemore & Son, Appleby Westward and James Hall & Co, are supporting the service.

With the help of government department Defra, Spar contacted a number of national charitable organisations to see how the convenience store chain could assist those who are frightened or confused, 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.

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.

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.

“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 continued.

“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.

“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.

“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.”

Laura Cockram, head of policy and campaigns at Parkinson’s UK, added: “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. ”

Spar is supporting the Carers Week campaign (8-14 June) by using social media to drive 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, commented: “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.”