Volunteers deliver more than 17,000 food boxes to isolated people in need across south Northamptonshire during lockdown

'It's just been incredible that people want to help each other - it's been a very uniquely Northamptonshire project'

Thursday, 27th August 2020, 4:07 pm
Updated Thursday, 27th August 2020, 4:21 pm

An army of 'incredible' 500 volunteers delivered more than 17,000 food boxes to people in need across south Northamptonshire during the coronavirus lockdown.

The community larder project was been brought to a close after launching in April to feed families in rural communities around the district who could not get to the shops using food that would have gone to waste.

Twenty charities were involved in providing supplies to residents in 74 villages in South Northants and Daventry districts as well as north Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire.

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A community larder volunteer providing a truly rural twist to delivering food as the Union Jack flies high in Cosgrove

Organiser Miranda Wixon said: "It's been amazing, it really has. The people involved have just come out week after week rain or shine with their wheelbarrows if need be.

"It's just been incredible that people want to help each other - it's been a very uniquely Northamptonshire project.

"The fact we have got to 74 villages just shows what can be done, it's pretty extraordinary and I'm hugely grateful to everyone who did that just by making phone calls and talking to people."

The project started when Miranda, a volunteer for Fareshare and South Oxfordshire Food and Educational Alliance (SOFEA) in Milton Keynes, wanted to replicate the charity's Oxfordshire community larder scheme in South Northants.

Northamptonshire Community Larders founder Miranda Wixon and Martyn Dearsley of SNVB unload boxes

Each community has a base for supermarkets and restaurants to drop off unwanted food and supplies which is then distributed to those in need.

Miranda, from Blakesley, contacted every parish council in the district while others went door-knocking to find people who needed food during lockdown - almost 2,000 were identified initially.

Volunteers in Milton Keynes put the food boxes together before more helpers delivered store cupboard items in their own time and without claiming any expenses.

A woman who was helped by the project said: “I thought that no one cared about us old folk, until my volunteer came each week with my box. Now I know they care."

Paul Crosbie delivering boxes to the Roade hub at the Grand Union sheltered housing scheme for Northamptonshire Community Larders

Word soon got round and the scheme expanded to more villages, with community larders set up in Blakesley, Brackley, Bugbrooke, Middleton Cheney, Nether Heyford, Old Stratford, Roade and Towcester - MPs even lent a hand with deliveries.

Miranda believes the key to the project's success was its simplicity with all red tape removed by the authorities because of coronavirus, meaning users could get food and volunteers could help easily.

"We handed out an essential lifeline and people who struggle with food insecurity are proud and don't want to be marked as poor or anything like that," she said.

"But by saying, 'there are no hoops to jump through, we're here for you,' they gladly got the help they needed."

South Northamptonshire MP Andrea Leadsom helps to deliver boxes with Northamptonshire Community Larders founder Miranda Wixon in the background

Coronavirus may have been the trigger for the project but issues around social isolation and food poverty in the rural communities of Northamptonshire is far from new.

The co-ordinator said around three fifths of recipients were elderly while around 40 per cent were families, while people of all ages and backgrounds were in need at one point or another.

Whether they were shielding or had lost their job, there were many reasons for residents requiring support from the scheme, according to Miranda.

"I'm still struck by people in villages who have been struggling or have been amazingly frail living in remote villages," she said.

"So it can be hugely uplifting to have someone come every week and ask how they are and feel that connection with another human being."

While the scheme is ending because of a lack of funds, Miranda hopes to convince the authorities to give them more financial support as the need is not going away.

Torin Little collecting boxes destined for the Northamptonshire Community Larders hub in Old Stratford

But she feels a great sense of pride for herself and the other volunteers for feeding so many families and cheering up so many isolated people over the past four months.

"We withdraw the scheme with people cupboards full, Marcus Rashford has got families vouchers over the summer and people are sharing excess food from their gardens," she said.

"The future is far from certain but at least we know that what ever comes our way, together we are able to respond on behalf of our neighbours and help to ease the blow together."