With more than a fifth of the Thanet working age population now claiming Universal Credit the issue of tackling the struggle of families trying to eat well at a price they can afford has become vital.
Thanet has the highest number of claimants – 18,397 or 22% as of July – of any of the Kent and Medway districts.
In March there were 11,526 UC claimants but the impact of the Covid pandemic, resulting in firm closures and redundancies, has contributed to that figure rising by almost 7,000 in just four months. It is a picture mirrored across the country but one that will be felt hardest in already deprived areas such as the isle.
At the height of the Covid restrictions vulnerable people and families were able to access free food parcels delivered by numerous volunteer organisations, including Our Kitchen on the Isle of Thanet.
Our Kitchen, run by Ramsgate resident Sharon Goodyer with volunteers and Trustees, has now taken the next step to ensure people can still afford to eat properly as restrictions have, for the time being, lessened but incomes are still suffering.
In a collaboration with Thanet council, Our Kitchen has taken over the former hairdresser premises at 51 High Street and is hosting a food club shop, offering goods at drastically reduced prices, meal kits, chances to learn new recipes, useful information sessions on nutrition and opportunities to taste new products.
Food is provided by organisations and groups including FareShare – which takes good quality surplus from right across the food industry and redistributes to charities- Kent Gleaners and Windmill Community Gardens allotments. The scheme is backed by county councillor Barry Lewis. Public donations are also welcome.
Some 180 families are signed up to the club so far.
Sharon, 69, said: “Everyone is registered. We ask people about them and food – allergies, special diets, food and the family -whether they like cooking, whether their kitchen is well equipped and how we can help.
“You would expect it to be all about wanting cheap food but a lot of answers are about what to give the kids, how to include fruit and veg, or being depressed. We have all lost our way a little bit. At the end they remember about cheap food. We don’t do sweets, crisps, fizzy drinks, things that are high in salt and sugar and most people think that is brilliant. It means they can make choices without worrying.
“This is about people’s dignity. People were being given free food parcels but this is about them being able to shop again, choosing but choosing better.
“People are not just signing up for cheap food, they are making a commitment to learn more about food and cooking.”
Sharon, who is currently waiting for a brain operation to help slow the effects of her Parkinson’s disease, is as unstoppable as ever and is making plans to extend the food club to sites in Ramsgate and Westgate.
A search for suitable, rent free, premises is underway and talks are taking place with the Canterbury diocese.
Sharon said: “For four months we gave out free food but that is never going to happen again. What we need to create is a sustainable model and this is sustainable.
“We have to make it possible for everyone to be able to eat better. The families registered with me are inspirational, they want to feed their children better.”
Sharon also wants to return to an earlier Our Kitchen scheme of preparing ready made meals, frozen in bulk for people to then buy.
She said: “Fresh food goes off so I want to do the frozen meals in production. I need access to a good kitchen for that, something like the Winter Gardens long kitchen with access from both sides, ideal for covid-safe production. I just need to be able to go in once or twice a week for production of the meals that can then be sold for a knock down price.”
A members’ management committee is currently being formed to take charge of Our Shop.
Sharon’s work was also recently recognised by Prime Minister Boris Johnson who presented her with a Point of Light award. The awards are given daily to outstanding volunteers for their inspirational service as a ‘Point of Light‘.
‘Our Shop’ is open Tuesday – Saturday, 10am to 3pm. It is run entirely by volunteers. To register pop to the store or contact the Our Kitchen on the Isle of Thanet facebook page.