On the 1st of March 2018 Chelmund's Fish & Chips opened its doors for the first time. The chippy was set up with the help of two ministers from local churches in Chelmsley Wood.
“It was the coldest day on record and yet the queue was literally stretching all the way around the block,” says Mike Harmon, the vicar of St. Andrew’s Church.
“We had a film crew from the One Show with us for the whole of that opening day,” Mike continues. “We had great publicity. It was hugely successful.”
Hole in the Market
A few years previously, Solihull Council had invested in a regeneration programme, with the help of EU money to improve the amenities in this neighbourhood, situated 2 miles north of Birmingham airport.
Mike explains, “Now we had a new supermarket, an enterprise building with low cost offices for start-ups, a new GP surgery, a pharmacy, a dentist. But to build these new things some very old boarded up, shuttered up, graffitied shops were demolished.”
One of those old shops was a chippy.
Mike and his friend Neil Roberts, the minister of Chelmsley Wood Baptist Church began hearing older people in the area lamenting the loss of the chippy and recognized an unorthodox way that they could serve their parish. They set up a Community Interest Company and so began a 2-year process of making Chelmund's Fish & Chips a reality.
Opened & Closed
By February 2018 they had drawn up a business model, kitted out the shop and found an experienced manager who could train a team of local employees.
“We didn't realise how successful it would be,” Mike admits. “We were open for 6 days and the takings were double what we were anticipating. It was massive. The guy who was our manager and fryer for our opening was just caught like a rabbit in the headlights. Unfortunately the cost was that he just couldn't handle it and he left.”
Without a manager they were forced to close for some months.
Back in Business
Once they found Raif, an experienced chip shop manager and fryer, the shop was reopened, and the customers flooded back.
It’s clear that Neil and Mike recognise the apparent conflict between providing fish and chips and encouraging healthy living. Mike says, “We seek to provide good quality food. We don't cook in lard, we cook in oil. We use really good ingredients. The chippy is about providing an amenity that people use.”
Employment & Empowerment
“This is also about building community. We wanted it to be a place that created employment. Which it did. We want it to be a place that provides training, so we employ young people and we don't just give them minimum wage and keep them at that level.”
Neil continues, “A key part of this is creating a sustainable income stream for the community. Now there’s money that the community can do what it wants to do with. If we see a need, we have the resources to do it. We don’t have to beg or persuade anyone else.
“There's an empowerment side to this. We can say to people 'look what we can do together', because this community has been told for so long: 'We'll do stuff for you. You don't really know what you're doing.’ ”
Neil aims to open more shops and create more employment. Once they've paid off the commercial loan they’re looking forward to reinvesting in the community. Mike says, “Maybe we’ll fund a youth worker or youth commissioner.”
They’ve already been able to fund a special day out to Weston for local people, families and volunteers who need a break. The Chelmund's Chippy tweeted, “This is how social enterprise works. The profits go back into the community, not an owner’s second home!”
Neil says, “I think from the church point of view the chippy is initially about being seen to be part of something good. It normalises the faith-based stuff that we do. Even putting an event poster up in the chippy may seem trivial, but it starts normalising faith as part of our community. People start to think, perhaps I will go to the carol service, or perhaps I will explore this issue with them.”
Mike concludes, “Helping to run a chippy is a different model of doing church. At the heart of this new village community there are two churches seeking to bring something of God's heart to that. The reason we're doing this is because we love and serve a God whose heart is so extraordinarily generous, I can't get my head round it. We experience his generosity and we want you to experience some of that generosity too. That's why we do it.”