A Leicester community enterprise has gone into business with the Co-op to produce 6,000 jars of strawberry jam.
Co-op shops around the Midlands are selling jam made by, bottled and labelled by Saffron Lane Neighbourhood Council, a community enterprise based in the Saffron Lane estate, one of the most deprived neighbourhoods in the country.
Better than Marks and Spencer
Last Christmas Saffron Lane partnered with the Central England Co-operative to sell 750 jars of plum jam and spiced apple chutney in their shops.
This partnership proved such a success it won them a Business Charity Award for ‘affinity marketing’ – beating the likes of Marks and Spencer, Oxfam and Barclays.
And it also made the Co-op decide to order more jam.
The right place at the right time
Neil Hodgkin, Head of Development at Saffron Lane, said: “Our partnership with the Co-op was purely a case of being in the right place at the right time. I met them at a meeting, their corporate responsibility team were looking for a project – and they couldn’t have found a better one if they tried!”
“The 750 jars of chutney and plum jam we made at Christmas all sold out. Then the Co-op said ‘how about making 6,000 this time’? It’s a major operation now and it’s bloody hard work. “
Saffron Lane took over 12 acres of disused allotments in 2006. They created Saffron Acres, a community garden offering funded work experience to local volunteers in an inner city area of high deprivation.
A fruity side-line
Saffron Lane runs a wide range of projects in the community, and the jam making began as a side-line. They grew all the fruit for their Christmas jam in their garden, but the size of the Co-op’s latest jam order has meant the strawberries had to be bought from elsewhere.
Confidence for the community
The jam is still made by the same team though – students with learning difficulties from Leicester College. Being part of the Saffron Acres jam project has helped them gain new skills, confidence and useful work experience.
If sales of the jam currently in Co-op stores are good – and they are so far – the plan is to make and sell more.
Neil Hodgkin said: “We’re taking over an empty community centre from the council, as a factory space. We’re becoming a company – and there are some hard choices to make if we want to become commercially viable. Where do we draw the line on what goes into the community and what goes into the business? It’s been an exciting year. It’s pushed us to our absolute limit and been a massive learning curve.
“If anyone wants to come and put labels on jars of jam, we’ve always got room.”