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Coronavirus West Berkshire: Newbury Community Resource Centre offers lockdown lifeline

Interview with CEO Kelvin Hughes

Geraldine Gardner

Geraldine Gardner

geraldine.gardner@newburynews.co.uk

Contact:

01635 886684

Sofa so good for Community Furniture Project

The Community Furniture Project store opened its doors to the public on Monday, but the shop is just one part of the Newbury Community Resource Centre, which has been operational throughout the lockdown period, trying to maintain a sense of 'normal' for the many people who rely on its services.

One of the key areas that has kept the charity busy has been food distribution to families and schools, as well as other groups that provide meals and food parcels for the homeless and vulnerable in their area.

Newbury Community Resource Centre chief executive Kelvin Hughes said that it had been working flat-out from the moment lockdown was imposed.

Mr Hughes said: "The first thing we did was buy a chiller van, so that we could deliver the fresh produce that comes to us each day from Fareshare, a food distribution charity that supplies us with our goods.

"It's all about getting it in, then sending it straight out to the people who need it.”

Before March, Mr Hughes said that the charity would normally supply food to 30 people over the course of a month.

He said: "Since lockdown that has gone up to 440.

"We supply to them direct – fresh, frozen and tinned foods – and we are also donating food, such as yogurts and healthy snacks, to five schools in the area.”

In addition, any leftover produce has been delivered to other food distribution charities, such as the Fair Close Centre, Loose Ends and Newbury Soup Kitchen.

"There are also smaller village groups that have sprung up during this crisis and we have supplied fresh and dairy foods to them as well,” Mr Hughes said.

"If you don't use it, it ends up in landfill, which is not acceptable.”

The charity has also continued to supply essential and white goods to people who have moved out of hostels into permanent accommodation, homeless people who have been put into accommodation and victims of domestic violence who have been moved to safety.

Mr Hughes said: "We have 50 staff and throughout this period 11 have continued to work alongside a large number of volunteers.”

He added that one of the most difficult things had been telling volunteers who are over 70, and therefore in the vulnerable age group, that they can't help.

He said: "It's been really hard telling them they are not allowed to help – they are so keen.”

Because the premises in Hambridge Road are so large the charity has also been able to continue its bicycle repair workshops and furniture building sessions as part of its social care remit.

"Many of the people who come to the workshops are young and have learning disabilities such as autism, so change for them is very difficult,” Mr Hughes said.

"By running the workshops in a safe and protected environment it maintains some sense of normality for them, as well as giving their parents or carers some respite.

"It has worked really well.

"They understand the process and the rules and restrictions in place and have all accepted and followed them.”

For those that are still at home, the charity has provided social inclusion via phone calls and WhatsApp groups.

"Even if someone just rings to chat about what's on TV – just little small talk – it is important to keep in contact with our young people so they don't feel abandoned.”

Newbury Community Resource Centre has also been supplying activity packs to families with young carers.

Mr Hughes said: "We have been sending them craft sets and old-fashioned games, so that they don't just spend their time in front of a screen, but have something creative to do.

"Our aim has been to maintain a sense of normal as much as we can for everyone.”

Another part of the charity is the Growing 2gether project, based in Kingsclere, which is a horticultural therapy and environmental education centre for young people with learning and physical disabilities and those with mental health issues.

Although lockdown meant it had to temporarily shut down, it still sold all the plants it had.

"We managed to sell all our stock online, delivering 10,000 plants across the area, including donations to all West Berkshire Council care homes to brighten them up.”

As lockdown restrictions ease, Mr Hughes said the charity had worked hard at getting the store safe and ready to welcome the public when it opened earlier this week.

He said it is selling all its usual goods, apart from books – "we decided that it would be impossible to control the handling of books, so it was easier to just remove them from the shop”.

The maximum number allowed in the shop at any one time is 20 and there are eight staff and volunteers on hand.

The shop opens at 10am, then shuts for an hour at lunchtime, for a clean.

The same cleaning routine happens when the shop closes at 4pm.

Mr Hughes said: "Our mantra is distance, distance, distance and handwashing, handwashing, handwashing.”

Sanitisers have been placed all around the shop for customers and the volunteers and, following Government guidelines, gloves, visors and masks are also available.

Mr Hughes says he has been overwhelmed by the way people have stepped up to help during this crisis.

"People basically are good and if given the opportunity to show their good side they always do – everybody has been pulling together.”

The Community Furniture Project shop in Bone Lane, on the Hambridge Road Industrial Estate, is open Monday to Friday 10am to 12.30pm and 1.30pm to 4pm.

Household collections have also started this week and you can book a collection by calling (01635) 43933.

If you want to take in donations, call and book a time slot so that the charity can safely manage the movement of people and goods in the loading area.

For more information, visit the Project's website.

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