Belfast Food Co-op Adapting & Thriving

Kerry Melville, Director at Belfast Food Co-op discusses the organisation’s success despite lockdown restrictions and importantly, how this new co-op is making a name for itself in North Belfast and beyond.

 You recently joined the board of Belfast Food Co-op. How would you compare Belfast Food Network’s activities and governance compared to Belfast Food Co-op?

We are currently in the process of reviewing Belfast Food Co-op’s governance with a view to simplifying this growing initiative. Belfast Food Network had an Advisory Group and 6 volunteer-led working groups. This structure is also in a process of change to reflect how we have evolved into a countrywide programme.

Do you plan box deliveries in the near future?

Belfast Food Co-op is currently running a pilot scheme for members. However this was in a very localized area. It’s something we will revisit going forward.

You have changed some of your suppliers due to ease of trade due to Brexit. How is this working out?

Our experience to date with Irish suppliers hasn’t been great. We have found they are more expensive and tend to use a huge amount of unnecessary packaging.

Thankfully our original UK supplier, Suma have ironed out the problems they encountered due to Brexit, so our next order will be from them.

Have you any plans for new product lines?

As Northern Ireland is well known for high quality produce, Belfast Food Co-op is keen to link directly with local growers to help increase the amount of fresh food available on our stall.

How is membership progressing?

Membership is gently increasing. It’s been amazing that the co-op has been able

to continue and adapt to numerous external pressures during Covid. This is a great indicator of the need and demand for such a co-op.

Have you any advice for other emerging co-ops?

Take it slow – work out why you want to set one up, and don’t get too tangled up in the plethora of models available. Just find one that works for the time you have and is suitable for the way you want to work. It’s difficult to change systems if you are just replicating frameworks and structures from other sectors.

Are you looking for premises for your pop-up presence?

Yes, a number of sites have been identified and there are plenty of options for the Board to consider.

Will Belfast Food Co-op become involved with Belfast Food Network activities?

Belfast Food Network will actively promote Belfast Food Co-op where appropriate and help link the co-op with new suppliers, producers and groups.

Any further information you feel you would like to share . . .

I’m delighted to be a part of the co-op; there’s a real need to diversify and enable people to connect with and buy food. The co-op provides affordable organic food for its members and the wider North Belfast community. It’ll be fantastic to find a new venue and get back to face to face buying as the restrictions lift.

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