Scrooge-like council shuts voluntary food hub at Christmas

Last run: the final food bank delivery run from CroydonVA was made yesterday

While dozens of voluntary groups and community organisations have been doing their bit to help the borough’s most vulnerable through the second pandemic Christmas, budget cuts at cash-strapped Croydon Council have seen their own voluntary sector organisation forced to shut down its food hub this week.

Croydon Voluntary Action confirmed yesterday that it is closing its food hub on London Road, unable to continue its operation which sought to coordinate the efforts of dozens of neighbourhood groups, charities and food banks, and help steer supplies of food and other goods to the needy.

Under the Labour-run council’s 2022-2023 budget put together under cabinet member Callton Young, there was a proposal to pull around £400,000 from the council’s Community Fund that had been promised to the borough’s voluntary groups and “third sector”.

“It was yet another ill-considered, penny-wise pound-foolish cut being pushed through by a council that has not properly assessed the value it gets for our money,” a Katharine Street source said.

“The groups who receive money from the Community Fund provide far more bang for the council’s buck than most spending. It’s these organisations that have really helped carry the borough’s services through the pandemic. Without them, Croydon could not have coped.”

Protest: voluntary groups took to the steps of the Town Hall earlier this month against council cuts

The budget cuts to the community groups had attracted more widespread, negative publicity, including another car-crash television interview by the council leader, Hamida “Apologetic” Ali, that ramped up the pressure.

With dozens of volunteers and activists protesting on the steps of the Town Hall earlier this month, the council did a U-turn, announcing that it would be robbing Peter to pay Paul by delving into its CIL fund – the Community Infrastructure Levy, money paid by developers as a condition of planning permission – to see most groups through another 12 months.

But there’s no extra cash for the council’s own arm’s length voluntary sector co-ordinating organisation, the CVA, run by former council official Steve Phaure.

And with a piece of flawless pre-Christmas timing worthy of any Panto, Phaure’s CVA yesterday issued a statement: “Over the last 21 months CVA has called on volunteers, collaborated with foodbanks, supported the mutual-aid movement and coordinated a massive civil society effort in mobilising Croydon’s communities against the pandemic.

“Following the cut in our council funding, we will have to close down our food relief operation after today’s last collection by all those foodbanks we’ve been supporting since March 2020.

Loading up: CVA’s co-ordination of food donations assisted dozens of smaller, mutual aid groups

“CVA set up the Food Hub at our Resource Centre on London Road at the start of the first lockdown and since then it has developed as the focal point for Croydon’s emergency food-relief effort.

“CVA extends its thanks to the incredible band of volunteers who have supported us throughout. Our thanks go to the Felix Project, City Harvest and UK Harvest for their weekly deliveries – and to St Mildred’s, the Ismaili Community, Gonville School and so many more donors for their generosity. We will never forget you!

“Although we’re having to scale back our Volunteer Centre and Communities Team – both of which have sustained CVA’s covid-19 relief programme – we will do our best to continue honouring Croydon’s proud tradition of volunteering and to support our community partners in leading Croydon’s recovery from the pandemic and bankruptcy.”

Peter Underwood, the Green Party’s candidate for Croydon Mayor next year, is one of the few local politicians who has actively rolled up his sleeves and volunteered with mutual aid groups throughout the covid lockdowns.

Hamida Ali: council leader had hoped to keep budget cuts secret

Today, he reacted to the CroydonVA announcement by saying, “Sorry to see this end this way when there are still so many people in need.

“But also a huge thank you for everything you have done over the last two years. Without your efforts the people of Croydon would have suffered far more and found life far more difficult.

“You also made it so easy for those of us who wanted to help to get involved. You made us feel welcome and brought us all together to make a real difference. The food hub will be really missed.”

Croydon Voluntary Action has produced a comprehensive guide to what might be available around the borough to help the homeless and those in need over the Christmas period, and beyond. For full details, with clickable links for more information, click here.

Note, some groups are offering extra and additional meal services over the Christmas weekend.

Here’s their register of Croydon foodbanks in December 2021:

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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