The food distribution centre at the Harlequin Theatre which helped supply vulnerable residents for more than four months has moved to a warehouse in Redhill, as part of the next phase of the borough council’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Reigate & Banstead Borough Council has said that its emergency response has changed in line with residents’ needs and Government advice to pause shielding for those at greatest risk of coronavirus.
During August, the council’s emergency food and prescription deliveries, as well as weekly welfare calls, were phased out but the council has been working with those who were receiving these services to make sure they have alternatives in place.
Cllr Rod Ashford, Executive Member for Community Partnerships, said: “As life has begun to return to what, for many residents, is a new normal, we’ve seen a gradual decline in requests for the council’s emergency help.
“And as people start to return to work, I think it’s important to acknowledge the amazing welfare support and community spirit that’s been selflessly offered by volunteers, local business and council staff.
“However, this is not a time to just sit back and reflect, there’s still a lot of work to be done.
“There are many vulnerable residents in need of our support with issues such as combating social isolation, bereavement and financial hardship.
“And of course, the council also recognises the need to be fully prepared to respond to further Covid-19 outbreaks or a local lockdown.”
For more than four months the Harlequin Theatre in Redhill served as the borough’s Community Support Centre, providing the council’s emergency food response for residents who were at high risk and needed to stay at home.
The theatre was transformed into a food distribution warehouse, from where over 48,000 grocery items were delivered to the local food banks and over 2,000 emergency food boxes were packed and delivered. The kitchens were also used to prepare and deliver over 7,000 hot meals.
Although the food store has now moved out of the Harlequin and into a local warehouse, the council will continue to supply local food banks with food and other essential items.
Local food banks are seeing a rise in demand from those facing financial hardship and the borough council is encouraging people to donate what they can.
This can be done through a local food bank drop off session, by making use of the many local community collection points set up by residents and community groups in response to the crisis, or by donating funds directly to the food banks.
The council will continue to refer people in financial need to their local food banks. Residents who are unable to leave home to buy food can be signposted to other local delivery options.
Since lockdown, almost 13,000 welfare calls have been made by re-deployed council staff and YMCA East Surrey staff to about 6,000 residents identified as vulnerable or shielding, and in response to calls into its helpline.
Volunteers have also been helping to make the befriending calls to residents who have been feeling particularly isolated and vulnerable.
Liz Gannon, one of our volunteer befrienders said: “I’ve really enjoyed making the phone calls and getting to know the people I speak to. I do think that a friendly chat is helpful and something to look forward to when you are having to isolate for so long.”
The council is working with local partners and volunteers to make sure vulnerable and high-risk residents continue to receive the support they need and access the benefits they are entitled to.
An online directory on the council website brings together the help available across the borough.
Plans are also in place for the council to step up its emergency response for local outbreaks if required.
All images via RBBC