The future of Greenwich borough’s food bank remains unclear despite the council easing back from a deadline for it to move out of its base in Eltham by December.
The charity, which is based at a distribution centre in Orangery Lane, has handed out more than 7,000 food packages to desperate residents in the last year.
However, the Eltham centre – set up with rooms stocked with long-life food and other goods organised by dedicated volunteers – faces closure as the council looks to build new homes.
The charity was initially served a “notice to quit” by December, having turned down one offer form the council to move to a premises understood to be in Thamesmead.
Uprooting workers and the focal point of the charity would have resulted in losing volunteers and cast uncertainty on the future of the service, while a move to Thamesmead would seriously challenge the charity as many volunteers are based in the west of the borough.
‘Every new home we can build counts’
A Greenwich Council spokesman has now confirmed to the Local Democracy Reporting Service that the charity will be able to stay until the new year.
They said: “For many years we have been temporarily letting an empty office near Eltham High Street to the food bank, on a peppercorn rent, until we were ready to build much needed 100 per cent council homes there as part of the Eltham Masterplan.
“We have 18,000 people on our housing waiting list and 1,000 households in temporary accommodation – so every new home we can build counts.
“The council has been engaging with the food bank since May and recently confirmed it would need to move by December this year and to find it a new and more suitable home.The premises we identified was a light industrial unit where it would have plenty of space to store food and park its vans to distribute food packages.
“Unfortunately, it feels that this location is not suitable, so we will carry on working together until we can find the right place and have extended its stay until after Christmas.
“However, there are only a limited number of suitable places available in the Eltham area.”
It is understood that the timescales are challenging for the charity and that if new premises are not found, it will have to change how it operates.
A spokesperson for Greenwich Foodbank said: “Greenwich Foodbank is extremely grateful for the long standing support it has received from the Royal Borough of Greenwich.
“Sadly, there is a big demand for our services in the borough with 7,551 three-day emergency food supplies given to people in crisis last year and expected to increase significantly this year.
“To operate the food bank on a daily basis we are hugely reliant on our network of unpaid volunteers, many of whom live in or close to Eltham.
“The new premises identified by the council would have resulted in the loss of this loyal and experienced workforce. However, we are confident that we can continue to work together to find a new home that is suitable to the needs of our organisation and to our volunteers and we are grateful that the council has extended our stay until after Christmas.”
‘We are part of the support service’
Last month, volunteers at the food bank told the Local Democracy Reporting Service how vital its services have become. Along with wife Esme, volunteer Alan Robinson, 70, has been involved with the food bank since 2012.
He said last month: “Our ambition is to close, we don’t want to be here but we are slowly becoming institutionalised. We are part of the support service. Society is becoming dependent on us.”
Matt Hartley, the leader of Greenwich Conservatives and councillor for Coldharbour and New Eltham, said it it was the timing that took everyone by surprise.
He said: “Requiring the food bank to move out by December 1 didn’t give them very much time to make alternative plans – and these next few months are also the time of year when the warehouse is at its fullest, so it would have been a difficult situation.
“I am pleased to hear the council has shown a bit of flexibility here by relaxing their original December timetable. The council needs to do all it can to help the food bank find an alternative site – and hold off until this is sorted. I would also hope the council will support them in the logistics of the move, which are considerable.”
Tom Bull is the Local Democracy Reporter for Greenwich. The Local Democracy Reporter Service is a BBC-funded initiative to ensure councils are covered properly in local media.
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