A hot meal delivery service providing food social contact is continuing in Swindon thanks to a Wiltshire Community Foundation grant.
Central Swindon North Parish Council has been awarded a second grant from the Coronavirus Response and Recovery Fund to continue the service, which delivers up to 90 meals a week.
The service was launched by the council with a £2,340 grant in August and has now been awarded a further £4,000 to keep it going.
Youth worker Aaron Webb first came up with the idea after he became concerned that the 75 regular attendees of the Pinehill and Pinehurst lunch clubs were not meeting because of covid restrictions.
He said: “I used to pop in and see them at the club and I found out that because they weren’t going anymore, many of them were feeling quite lonely and isolated. Also, they were only getting a proper cooked meal a couple of times a week.
“We heard also that some of the staff from the Olive Tree Café, who cook at the lunch clubs, weren’t working because the café was closed and were struggling with their mental health.”
He contacted the lunch clubs and rang their members to see if they wanted hot meals delivered to their door.
“We had a fantastic response,” he said. He then recruited volunteer cooks from the café and a delivery team that included council staff and began the service at the Pinetrees Community Centre.
Within weeks the team were delivering 45 two-course meals every Wednesday and Thursday.
“The menu ranges from stews and casseroles to roasts or pies with a dessert,” said the 32-year-old, who has worked for the council for two years. “They get really good dinners, all freshly cooked and good quality.
"We did some ploughman’s lunches when it was warmer but now we are going for heartier meals.”
The large kitchen at the community centre means the lunches can be cooked and packed by volunteers within social distancing guidelines.
“We have three cooks from the Olive Tree and we have three or four volunteers from parish council chipping in, not only with the cooking but delivering as well because it’s a big job,” said Mr Webb.
“We deliver to Penhill, Pinehurst, Moredon, Ferndale and Rodbourne Cheney. It’s a massive parish, we are one of the biggest in the UK.”
The list of recipients has grown as word of mouth has spread.
“People have contacted us to say their mum or their auntie needed some food, so we’ve taken it from there. Some people have dropped off now because they say they don’t need the meals anymore.
"We were delivering to one family where the parents were furloughed but they have gone back to work.”
Feedback has been positive.
“It means quite a lot to them, not just for the physical health but their mental health too. We can’t have much interaction when we drop the meals off but even saying hello and asking how they are doing is just what they need.
“It also means a lot to the Olive Tree staff as well; it gets them out of the house and gets them active. We want to keep going as long as possible, thanks to the Wiltshire Community Foundation grant we have got enough to keep going for a few months at least.
"The grant has been a massive help because we wouldn’t have been able to carry on without it and all these elderly people wouldn’t have been helped.”
The Wiltshire Community Foundation’s Coronavirus Response and Recovery Fund has now raised almost £1.2m and distributed £1m through more than 240 grants to groups across Swindon and Wiltshire.
Joint chief executive Fiona Oliver said: “The pandemic has brought enormous isolation and loneliness to many people, particularly those who are older and don’t live close to family. This fantastic initiative by the council has harnessed the energy and enthusiasm of volunteers and staff and used it to provide not just nourishment but valuable contact for people in the parish, and we are so pleased to fund it.”
To donate to the Wiltshire and Swindon Coronavirus Response Fund or find out how to apply for a grant, visit wiltshirecf.org.uk