The Wymondham Community Outreach Project has been providing a much-needed community help point and foodbank service since late March with the help of parishioners, staff seconded from South Norfolk Council and generous donations from local supermarkets.
Two years ago, church parishioners pledged £20k to fund the conversion of a chair store room into a community kitchen and the move led to the launch of a fully inclusive community initiative that is driven by compassion who’s aim is to challenge poverty, food waste and social exclusion in the community.
Prior to lockdown, the church-based project ran a Community Fridge and Community Kitchen service helping to feed vulnerable local people and save food waste at the same time, with support and guidance from Fr Pat Cleary and Fr Denis Gallagher. But many of its volunteers were older parishioners who have been self-isolating and unable to help during the crisis.
South Norfolk Council generously seconded members of staff from its nearby Wymondham Leisure Centre, who joined younger parishioners to launch the lockdown service which currently provides food parcels and a contact service for many desperate and needy families across the town.
From the end of June, the South Norfolk staff will be returning to their day jobs and more volunteers will be needed to help keep the vital service going.
The project is co-ordinated by parishioner Arnie McConnell, who is currently having to work from home: “Sometimes people fall through the safety net and sometimes the net is insufficient to adequately deal with the hardship experienced,” he said. “Either way, we will do everything possible to ensure that people, and often families, in difficulty are helped in a full and effective way. All of our volunteers are committed to that way of working.
“Recently I was alerted by social services that a housebound person in the community with complex needs had run out of food. On that particular day our Help Point service was closed. I managed, however, to contact Deirdre Marr who immediately dropped everything she was doing, gathered together a parcel of food and made a contactless delivery to a very grateful individual.
Parishioner Deidre Marr, and her two teenage daughters Bryony and Catherine, from Attleborough are among those making vital deliveries of food.
“We don’t just drop off the food though,” said Deirdre. “One man did not have either a fridge or freezer working, so we were able to help him. For many people we are the only people they see all week. People really value having a chat, having been locked up and sometimes frightened throughout the lockdown.
“All our lives have changed through lockdown – many for the worse. However, most would agree that taking the opportunity to look out for others is hugely gratifying. Certainly, all those working tirelessly, either behind closed doors, like Arnie, who constantly fights the causes of many, or those who are dealing directly with the foodbank users, are really making a difference.”
Normally a receptionist at Wymondham Leisure Centre, Karen Brindle currently leads the team organising the huge amount of work needed to provide a twice-weekly food delivery and collection service direct from the church.
“We are feeding 80 families a week,” said Karen, and anyone who is in need can come in and collect some food – which is free. There are lots of people who cannot leave their homes and families with young children who are really struggling. We personalise the boxes for people according to their needs.”
Food donations come from Waitrose, Morrisons and Lidl and Co-op in Wymondham as well as lots of local people from the church and elsewhere bringing in boxes of food and essential items.
“Karen and her team have been fantastic,” said Arnie. “They have been extraordinary when there was a lot of fear and uncertainty about, reassuring people – they have been inspirational.”
“The project has been working in partnership with South Norfolk Council, Wymondham Town Council and Norfolk Police who have been able to identify people in crisis who we are able to give prompt support to.”
With the South Norfolk team finishing at the end of June, more volunteers will be needed to keep the vital service going.
“We need volunteers to help collect food, organise it at the church base and deliver it,” said Arnie. “We want people who are ready to serve the community. We are a fully inclusive project – working with parishioners and with people who have no contact at all with the church. We are united in wanting to serve the marginalised and vulnerable in the community at this particular time.
If you might be able to help you contact the project on 01953 603104 or at email@example.com
Donations of food can be left in the Narthex of Our Lady and St Thomas of Canterbury Church, 1 Norwich Road Wymondham, NR18 0QE on Tuesdays 11-11.45am and Saturdays 1-1.45pm. It is also possible for to make contactless collections of donated food. All food must be unopened and within its sell-by date.
Financial donations can also be made at HSBC: Wymondham Roman Catholic Church, Sort code: 40-47-27, Account no: 71006312. Please reference the donation as WCOP. Cheques should be made payable to Wymondham Roman Catholic Church and all donations go directly to a ring fenced project account.
Contact: Tel: 01953 603104, email: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Twitter @wymondhamshare.
Pictured are some of the team behind the Wymondham Community Outreach Project emergency food service at their base at Wymondham Catholic church.