Feeding the Community

Charterhouse Resource Centre & Sensory Room in Burnley had only been in its new, larger premises for 18 months when lockdown hit.

The busy day care centre for people with learning disabilities, dementia, and the elderly was welcoming 60 people a day, with a further 40 using its sensory service, alongside a busy café for the wider community.

Although it had to close its doors, it couldn’t turn its backs on its service users.

The CIC was created a decade ago by husband and wife team, Jason and Carolyn Smith using their previous experience – Jason was in the NHS working in a disability supported living environment and Carolyn worked in a day care setting for Lancashire County Council.

“At the beginning of Covid, we decided locking down and us furloughing wasn’t going to work for any of our service users,” Jason said.

The centre’s kitchen was commandeered to produce meals to deliver to its service users.

“Delivering food was desperately needed at that time. People who couldn’t get out and family who couldn’t get out to see them, but it also allowed us to go into that person’s life and see if they had any issues or problems. Some of our volunteer drivers were the only people who saw our service users for weeks on end. It was a real welfare check.”

News got out, and demand snowballed to the wider community.

“At our prime during lockdown, we were delivering 1500 meals a week. In total, we’ve delivered 29,000 meals to the community.”

Calls came from as far as Canada from families asking the centre to check on their elderly parents isolating in Burnley. One concerned woman reached out to receive meals for her 101-year-old neighbour, whose family had to stop visiting in lockdown. The Centre is still supporting the lady with meals, and a strong friendship has been forged with her neighbour. Another elderly couple, who received free cooked meals alongside a weekly shop delivered to their door, said the food deliveries ‘saved’ their lives as they were both at high risk.

“Just to know we’re supporting people that are really vulnerable means a lot,” Jason said.

He estimates the centre has supported 1500 people during lockdown.

Key Fund gave them a lifeline £47k grant from the Social Enterprise Support Fund, made possible thanks to The National Lottery Community Fund, the largest funder of community activity in the UK.

Prior to this, the organisation had never been reliant on grants but without income during lockdown it needed the cash injection.

“Once we could open up again and our service users came back, we needed our staff. So, half the money went into staff members and an apprentice to run the project, and the other half was to just keep the lights on for a six-month period.”

The team stepped up during lockdown because they ‘needed to’. Burnley is an area of high deprivation and demand was acute. The free meal scheme will continue till Christmas at least.

“We don’t know what stage we’re at, it can all change any time,” Jason said. “We’ve had the hunger and isolation and not being able to leave home – the next step is getting people back into services and socialising again, but it could all change again.”

The work in lockdown led to Burnley council sitting up and taking notice of the centre; they’re now working with them and providing increased support to help them respond to the changing needs.

Jason feels the centre has become even more the beating heart of its community.

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