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Baroness Rosie Boycott says Sheppey supermarket in a bus is 'just the ticket'


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Sheppey’s Support Bus had a VIP onboard when Baroness Rosie Boycott hitched a ride.

The chairman of Feeding Britain, a charity set up to combat hunger, paid a surprise visit to the Island to see the mobile supermarket in action and to meet the team.

Driver Mike Riley welcomes Baroness Rosie Boycott aboard the Sheppey Support Bus
Driver Mike Riley welcomes Baroness Rosie Boycott aboard the Sheppey Support Bus

The bus offers discounted groceries to those in need for just £28 per month per family.

The former national newspaper editor, now a leading campaigner against food poverty, said: “This is such a brilliant idea. The bus can rock up anywhere and go to the people who need it.”

It is the second project of its kind in the UK. The first, also launched this summer, was the Wandsworth Food Bus in south London. A third is planned for South Shields.

Miss Boycott, a cross-bench peer in the House of Lords, said: “I have loved the idea of mobile shops ever since, as a young girl, my mother took me to the mobile library. It arrived in our village every Thursday morning. I loved the smell of books, the pink carpet and being able to take books away for free

“When I began researching food poverty I realised this could be a way to help solve it. But there were always obstacles.

Baroness Rosie Boycott, centre, with the Feeding Britain and Sheppey Support Bus teams
Baroness Rosie Boycott, centre, with the Feeding Britain and Sheppey Support Bus teams

“Somehow, Sheppey has managed to overcome them. It’s an incredible achievement. I take my hat off to them.”

She added: “I was bowled over by the bus. It is a really clever idea to try to catch people before they need food banks.

"It is an amazing model which can distribute affordable food equally well in city centres and in rural areas. It is also designed to be virtually self-sufficient.”

She has chaired the London Food Board, which sets food policy for the Mayor of London, for more than 10 years, initially under Boris Johnson.

Steve Chalke, Tim Lambkin, Lynne Clifton and Paul Murray at the launch of the Sheppey Support Bus
Steve Chalke, Tim Lambkin, Lynne Clifton and Paul Murray at the launch of the Sheppey Support Bus

By the age of 21 she had co-founded the feminist magazine Spare Rib and went on to edit The Independent, The Independent on Sunday and the Daily Express along with a stint at the helm of men’s magazine Esquire.

The latest addition to the Support Bus crew is retired Arriva bus driver Mike Riley from Halfway who takes the former red London double-decker, now painted white, around the Island every Tuesday.

He said: “It’s great. I get to meet a wide variety of people. One of our first visitors was an elderly gentleman who was living in his car. Some have been a bit sceptical about joining up but the word is spreading. Some just like coming along for a cup of tea and to sit and chat.”

As well as buying groceries at discount prices, members can access advice, guidance and support on the top deck. Last week, a team from Barclays Bank was onboard with financial advice.

One happy shopper was Jane Palmer. She said: “To anybody sitting on the wall still thinking about joining, just do it!

Inside the Sheppey Support Bus
Inside the Sheppey Support Bus
A typical week's shop on the Sheppey Support Bus comes to £3.50
A typical week's shop on the Sheppey Support Bus comes to £3.50

“I managed to get to the bus today and joined up straight away. It’s £14 a month for single people like me.

“I will struggle to get through all I bought before next week. That’s right, you get groceries every week which works out at £3.50 a week.

“You couldn’t get that amount even at Aldi for that price. Thank you for an amazing service to the Island.”

The project was set up by the Sheppey Community Development Forum to provide food and other support for Islanders who may be struggling financially.

The Rev Steve Chalke, who chairs the forum and is also founder of the Oasis Academy Isle of Sheppey, said: “It is most exciting the way this project has been gripped by the community. It could really put Sheppey on the map. It was vitally important to launch it now with the government’s furlough schemes ending in September.”

Major Lynne Clifton of the Salvation Army in the driving seat of the wheel of the Sheppey Support Bus
Major Lynne Clifton of the Salvation Army in the driving seat of the wheel of the Sheppey Support Bus

The project is led by Major Lynne Clifton of the Salvation Army in Sheerness.

She said: “The bus gives us the opportunity to get out to see people who might find it difficult to visit offices in Sheerness. The geography of Sheppey can be challenging, especially if you don’t have your own transport.”

She added: “It also compliments existing food banks. It helps give people dignity and empowers them. I am really excited about it.”

The bus was donated by Tim Lambkin of Sheppey-based coach company TravelMasters.

The forum raised £10,000 for the conversion which was carried out by South East Coachworks of Faversham, the same people who prepared the Union Flag bus for the Spice Girls’ 1997 movie Spice World.

Tim Lambkin, centre, of Travel Masters with apprentices Tim Lambkin and James Chisman. The company donated a former London double-decker for the Sheppey Support Bus project
Tim Lambkin, centre, of Travel Masters with apprentices Tim Lambkin and James Chisman. The company donated a former London double-decker for the Sheppey Support Bus project
Justin Good, left, and Paul Chapman of South East Coachworks who converted a former red London double-decker into the Sheppey Support Bus
Justin Good, left, and Paul Chapman of South East Coachworks who converted a former red London double-decker into the Sheppey Support Bus
The Sheppey Support Bus
The Sheppey Support Bus

Catch the bus on Tuesdays at 8.30am in Warden Bay car park, 10.30am at Leysdown Old Police Station, 12.30pm at Curly’s Farm, Bayview and 1.30pm in Plover Road, Minster.

It will also be on show in Sheerness Broadway on Saturday, December 4, from 10am as part of the town's annual Christmas lights celebration.

* To join, turn up or email membership@sheppeysupportbus.org. To volunteer on the bus call 07970 753404.

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