Update From Newbury Soup Kitchen

It has been a while since we have written a blog. Since COVID 19 we have been experiencing a whirlwind of changes for Newbury Soup Kitchen and therefore have had to adapt the operational side of the charity on a weekly and sometimes daily basis. This is to ensure our clients receive the best possible care and support within Government Guidelines and advice.

Initially Newbury Soup Kitchen moved from our usual sessions within The Salvation Army Hall which provided Outreach, medical and dental support along with beautiful freshly cooked meals with the added service of Hairdresser and foot specialist to a standard take away service that could be safely served outside.

The Take Away service was set up to provide food 7 days a week from outside the Salvation Army hall or the back of our van in the Wharf early evenings.

Unfortunately it became apparent to us that our service users were not working with the safety of social distancing and self isolation at all. This became a huge concern for us. We did not want to encourage people out on the streets especially as lockdown was looming and we could see that we were putting our volunteers in danger of exposure to the virus and increasing the risk to our service users and the public. Many service users were ambivalent at this stage due to lack of understanding and fear.  It was with a heavy heart we closed the sessions down and adapted our food and outreach to a delivery service. This takes the story to where we are now.

Government Directives have been throughout this Pandemic to get rough sleepers and vulnerable people off the streets to encourage social distancing and self-isolation. Therefore, the Homeless Reduction Co-ordinator at the council has been working tirelessly to do this. It has been a difficult job and at times a frustrating one. We have had to work very closely with her and other organisations to ensure as much as possible (and with difficulty at times) a seamless transition for people. The numbers change daily, and people sometimes have had to be moved around to find the ‘best fit’ for some. Local hotels, B&B’s and landlords have stepped up to help with this difficult task. There have been early prison releases as part of the Government Directive also, so a melting pot of personalities have been put together and told to ‘get on with it and behave’. We have been completely surprised how well it has gone. Of course, there have been a few issues that have happened but as usual it is always the minority. Many people have managed to gain the support and strength to make better decisions and reduce their drug and alcohol usage. Living with a roof over your head is not enough but with support and patience positive things can start to happen and for many service users we have seen this.

At present we provide about 300 meals a week. This is done in way of delivery. The food is cooked, bagged up in individual ‘grab bags’ which have a hot vegetarian meal, fruit, snack, drink and homemade cake or biscuit. Every cook has Food Hygiene level 2 to ensure safety and best practice. We have chosen to cook vegetarian meals for most of the locations as we cannot guarantee how long the food is lying around out of a fridge before it is consumed. Some of the locations the food can sit in the sun if clients are out of their room and we regard this as a huge health hazard to we do not provide meat or rice dishes. The service users do not all have the luxury of a microwave or fridge so we have to adapt and cater for that.

During this time, we have been supported by a smaller group volunteers who have stepped up and continued to work very hard. They have filled the places and gaps that were created from other volunteers having to self-isolate. We have pulled together and planned a smaller task force to keep the Soup Kitchen going and providing what is needed until we can open our traditional sessions again. A small team of volunteers cook meals throughout the week with ingredients that has been donated by supermarkets especially Waitrose and Partners Newbury and Thatcham and Tesco Newbury. They work out a meal for each day, so nothing is repeated so our recipients get a healthy varied diet. They look amazing and we have been regularly told how good they are, and everyone is incredibly thankful for them. Also, we have James and Lewis at @finkstreetfood who provide meals for us on a Tuesday and Jamie from @Hodsonscateringservices who cooks for us on a Wednesday.

As we are providing meals 7 days a week this is an amazing help for us. Numbers change daily and the guys are really flexible and work with us with recipes and ingredients in order to produce nutritious and stunning chef prepared meals. One client talked to Meryl after she dropped off 27 meals at a location this week, he  said “Look at me, for the first time in years I have put on some weight, I feel so much healthier”
There is always a balance of supporting someone and enabling someone. We constantly address this issue and work with statutory organisations to make sure we are all working from the same hymn sheet. Most of the service users are on some sort of benefit and some are getting their accommodation for free as the Government as provided funding for this. This situation is unprecedented, and it has always been about SAFETY FIRST for all.  If this cohort of people are housed and fed then they are less likely to be roaming the streets, walking around, potentially infecting others as social distancing and self-isolation is difficult for some.

We will continue to deliver meals to those that need it. The Local Council will work very hard over the next three plus months especially to move people on into permanent accommodation. Otherwise many people will end up back out on the streets after funding is pulled by central government which it eventually will. Once the hospitality trade is allowed to open again the hotels may not want rough sleepers to stay there any longer so this will all we hope done in alinement to ensure ongoing housing and safety of vulnerable adults.

Newbury Soup Kitchen worked solely on food supermarket/public donations, public monetary donations and grants. We cannot do what we do without this.
This is a record of our impact to potential food waste and what we have saved from Waitrose and Tesco locally since we have been open.

Therefore we ask that continues support from the community is given. We feel that we all have responsibility in life to look after typos less fortunate in a non judgemental way.  In this role we get to know the personalities of the people we work with and not put purely the face of addiction and crime.
We have many ways set up that you can donate. We have a Facebook donation button at the top of this blog, Just Giving and The Good Exchange are ways to donate money. A cheque can be sent to The Salvation Army hall, Northcroft Lane RG14 1BU. Our Amazon Wishlist is always updated to include items we require as things change and we have to adapt.

Thank you Newbury for your help, kind words as we drive around in our van and to all our clients who have shown our volunteers kindness and respect sat all times, even when life for them is difficult. This could not have been witnessed in a clearer way than the artwork left on the windows at one location that we deliver at recently. A Thank you to the Newbury Soup Kitchen Volunteers and NHS staff.

Keep safe everyone and keep your distance from each other so life can eventually return as we know it.  Thank you.