Future of charity’s meals placed at risk

One of Evergreen Care Trusts volunteers prepares soup for the deliveries which are coming to an end
One of Evergreen Care Trusts volunteers prepares soup for the deliveries which are coming to an end
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A charity’s hot and wholesome soup deliveries will stop running from next month after South Kesteven District Council proposed a new charge.

From April 1, Evergreen Care Trust will no longer be running its popular soup deliveries after South Kesteven District Council decided to introduce a charging structure for the use of its communal areas in sheltered housing accommodations.

The charity has been using the kitchen facilities in Clare Close, Stamford, to produce the soup and bread for the service which has operated five days a week since it was launched in 2008. Up to 100 portions a week are produced and are delivered by volunteers to the most vulnerable elderly members of the community.

Although soup recipients pay a small fee, the charity has always subsidised the service and the board of trustees felt it couldn’t add the additional cost to that as it would make the service unsustainable.

But chief executive of the charity Louise Marsh says Evergreen is working with another meal provider called iCare in Market Harborough to offer an alternative which could prove better. iCare offers a seven day a week meal ‘delivery to the table’ service.

Louise is hoping to personally visit as many of the soup recipients as possible to chat to them about the alternative options, adding: “We will be working with them to help with the transition.”

The trust also runs lunch clubs twice a week at other sheltered housing accommodations in Stamford - Hillary Close, Essex Road and Emlyns Gardens.

The introduction of the charge also placed these at risk but, thankfully, Evergreen has been able to work to find a solution to enable these to keep running for the benefit of the residents, their neighbours and friends.

Now instead of Evergreen employing the cooks, they will become self-employed and pay the costs themselves - with Evergreen still providing the volunteers needed.

Louise said: “When we heard about the introduction of charges, I was absolutely heartbroken because putting up the cost was just totally unviable. But hopefully this is a good working solution.”

The lunch clubs have been running for nearly 12 years and regularly attract as many as 30 people. Again the guests pay a small charge for the three-course meal but it has been subsidised by the charity.

Guests should notice very little change to the lunch clubs but even so, Louise has spent this week visiting the locations to explain the changes.

Louise said the lunch clubs were not just about making sure elderly people were getting a hot nutritious meal but ensuring they were not left isolated and alone.

She said: “The lunches have been so popular for 12 years and it is about the friendships that have been created between the cooks, the volunteers and the residents. The volunteers have been worrying about that as much as anything.

“At a time when loneliness and social isolation are in the spotlight nationally, it is disappointing that clubs like this which are engaging hundreds of people a week are facing these sorts of challenges to keep going.”

Louise said that while she understood the financial challenges South Kesteven District Council faces - and appreciated the work its officers had done to find a solution - she was disappointed at the overall outcome.

She said: “It has been a difficult couple of months trying to find a solution. We recognise this represents the end of the Evergreen meal provision as we know it but there’s been an amazing willingness by SKDC, volunteers and the cooks to find a way forward.”

South Kesteven District Council said the “minimal fee” was “solely to cover the operational costs”. A statement added that 60 per cent of any profits made would be ploughed into a fund for the benefit of all residents. Groups made up only of tenants will not be charged.

Business manager for housing Lisa Barker said: “We have met with Evergreen to discuss how we could best work together and although the meeting ended on a positive note Evergreen has now told us that they cannot pay for the use of the community rooms and that they intend to end their involvement.

“We hope to find a way for Evergreen to continue but there are other possible providers and we also understand that the existing chefs and volunteers may wish to continue to provide the lunch clubs themselves.”

The lunch clubs were originally launched in response to the demise of the county-run Meals on Wheels scheme.

As well as Evergreen Care Trust, Louise said other services had been hit and a mobile hairdresser who had been using the Stamford complexes was also stopping at the end of the month, as was an Extend exercise class sponsored by Evergreen.

Evergreen Care Trust, which is based in Barnack Road, Stamford, runs a range of services to help elderly and vulnerable people across Stamford, Bourne and the Deepings.