By Cllr John Baldwin (Belmont ward)
Foodshare Maidenhead (FM) has been a lifeline to the poorest and most vulnerable in our community for nearly as many years as I have lived in the town. My wife and I have been adding a few bits to the shopping every week for as long as we can remember.
However, a few weeks ago, my involvement ramped up. I found myself getting more and more engaged with the extraordinary people who run it and volunteer to work in it. I wanted to document their efforts and outline our plans to support them going forwards.
In common with many of you, I became aware of the rapid changes in their operations from the Facebook Group – Foodshare Maidenhead Coronavirus Food Delivery Support.
A new way of working …
For any organisation to completely reverse its distribution system at a moment’s notice would be an enormous challenge. For one with no employed staff, wholly dependent on volunteers and with scanty financial resources, it might have seemed impossible.
But not to Debra and Lester. They realised that the old collection model was temporarily unsustainable. Some of their clients did not understand the risks and were putting the volunteers in harm’s way so, after the announcement of the restrictions, they decided to put the call out for volunteer drivers via the group. Debra was stunned by the overwhelmingly supportive response.
I am so proud that hundreds of you answered that call and continue to do so.
A new location…
The next hurdle was the cramped nature of the New Market site. I was able to assist them with a regular supply of PPE, which was sourced courtesy of the ever understanding and helpful council officers at the Town Hall.
Despite all these precautions, there was still an immediate need to find larger premises.
Our good friends and kind benefactors, the Nicholson Centre, gave us temporary use of the old Argos unit for three months. Dozens of volunteers turned up to help move tons of racking, tinned and packaged food and, incredibly, everything was ready to resume deliveries the next day.
By now many of you will have noticed that three times a week, we adapt Queen Street and Brock Lane to facilitate the movement of hundreds of cars. We have tried to keep the disruption to a minimum. We owe a big thank you to everyone for their patience and understanding. We hope it will only need to be maintained for a few more weeks.
Beyond the crisis
Once the restrictions are lifted and further, when Debra and Lester judge it is safe, FM will return to its collection model.
And that brings us to what the Liberal Democrats in Council will be trying to change for the future.
It is sad but inevitable that the impacts of COVID-19 will last far longer than the current emergency. Hundreds more local people will be out of work. The homeless, temporarily housed by the council, will, tragically, mostly return to our streets. The demands on FM will keep increasing and there may be no end in sight on that curve.
Your Liberal Democrat councillors are determined to ensure the safe and robust operation of this vital community asset.
We are committed to –
- Maintaining a constant supply of PPE for FM volunteers
- Ensuring FM has the material and financial resources to operate at any level required of it
- Increasing the logistical support offered by RBWM
- Finding FM a permanent suitable location
- Continuing to advocate for an effective homelessness strategy.
If you need help during this crisis, please get in touch. We’re here to help.
John Baldwin is a Liberal Democrat councillor for Belmont ward, in the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead.