The Morrisons supermarket chain is opening up all its cafes to local residents and community groups in need of meeting spaces, allowing groups to book 2-hour-long time slots for free.
Morrisons has said it wants to provide new parents, charities, book clubs, craft groups, and gaming communities somewhere to go, as community resources decline.
From this week, organisers will be able to book a cafe space for up to 20 people between 9-11am, and 2pm to closing time on weekdays.
Morrisons said its cafes were already being used on an informal basis by shoppers and so wanted to launch a nationwide scheme in order to ensure more people benefit.
“We’ve seen more groups use our café spaces as meet up areas so we’re delighted to formalise the offering and make it even easier for local communities to come together over a cup of tea and great food,” said Helen Tordoff, head of cafes at Morrisons. “All ages are welcome and we’re open to all groups. This is a permanent initiative. We know that some areas have fewer community spaces today.”
The initiative is designed to help people deal with the increasing cost of booking meeting spaces in local centres after supermarket research found some were spending around £20 on average booking elsewhere.
As austerity continues to bite in Britain, cuts to council budgets have forced community centres, which once provided society’s most vulnerable with spaces to socialise, learn, and exercise, to close. Since 2010, more than 500 children’s centres have closed in England, government figures show.
One established collective that has been using Morrisons as a base is the Horsforth Craft Group.
Member Rachel Taylor, from the outskirts of Leeds, said: “Some community centres can be tricky to book as costs can be quite high and there is limited availability.
“Our local Morrisons café is perfect as it is free to book and there’s always good food and drink available. We meet there regularly to create our craft masterpieces and would encourage any other clubs to consider Morrisons as an affordable and pleasant place to meet.”
Groups can email their local Morrisons Community Champion or contact their store by phone.
The move follows an initiative by Co-op, which in June launched its Endangered Spaces initiative, also created to help support Britain’s declining community centres.
Co-op said it aims to protect, support and improve 2,000 at-risk community spaces by 2022 and called on the public to identify locations in need of financial backing.
The supermarket said the UK is losing more than 4,000 publicly owned buildings and spaces every year, according to a company report. Co-op said a partnership between Co-op Foundation and Government has made available £2.9m of funds.
Co-op’s director of community and shared value, Rebecca Birkbeck, said: “In our Co-operate 2022 plan, we have worked with our members to focus on the things which can really help shift the wellbeing in communities, those things where co-operation will drive the change.
“We know that people need community spaces to learn together, play together and just be together. This is why we are making this commitment with Locality and why we know that our communities will be healthier, happier and safer places as a result.”