Sustainable Wantage is a Community Action Group focused on activities that protect and enhance the natural environment and strengthen the local community. It is run by volunteers interested in actions that have a positive impact and increase resourcefulness and resilience.
In December 2019, Sustainable Wantage started operating a community fridge at community centre The Mix, where surplus and waste food is collected and then offered free of charge to the local community. The Community Fridge is open six days a week and anyone can collect food from it. In the first two months, over a tonne of food was redistributed from the fridge.
Volunteers now regularly collect waste food from Waitrose in Wantage and Tesco in Grove, and from SOFEA and M&S in Didcot.
Since the restrictions due to COVID-19, all activities in The Mix were cancelled, and unfortunately the usual operating method for the community fridge was no longer suitable, at a time when it was most needed. However, food collections have continued, and volunteers take it to The Mix where it is sorted and packed into food parcels. These parcels are then distributed to self-isolated and vulnerable households in Wantage, Grove and East Challow.
On the initial promotion of this service, volunteers were inundated with requests for deliveries. There are currently 21 volunteers collecting, packing and distributing these food parcels, and delivering them to 227 households – approximately 900 people. In the first four weeks of this operation 2442 kg of food were redistributed in a total of 690 deliveries.
There is a traffic light system to prioritise those most in need of this service. This allows people to choose for themselves how much support they need without having to name the reason. It also allows volunteers to give things to families in need that can then feel that they are part of a food waste saving project rather than a charity handout. The system is responsive, so people can change their colour as needed: for example, four families that work for the same company went from yellow to red when none of them had been paid for over a month and rent payments started bouncing. Other families have moved to red as they have symptoms.
Although Sustainable Wantage has been providing a vital service to the community, while also fulfilling one of its core aims by reducing food waste, COVID-19 restrictions have meant they have lost other important sources of income, such as events and room hires at The Mix. A grant from OCF’s Community Resilience Fund has helped them to cover ongoing core costs such as The Mix Coordinator’s salary and rent and bills, plus PPE and sanitary products required for operating this new service.
One recipient of a food parcel said: “We aren’t eligible to any financial help and we are very tight for money at the moment. We received a lovely little mix of bits today and the man delivering it was lovely. Means a lot, thank you!”
Another commented: “It couldn’t have come at a better time, and it contained just what we needed! With only one banana and two slices of bread left in the freezer, I was going to ration the other fruit in the house from a constantly hungry toddler until I can go shopping on Saturday! Plus I’ve had a hankering for hot cross buns – are you guys telepathic?! We are extremely grateful for the amazing work you guys do, and the amount received was perfect so I am pleased to say none of it will be going to waste, which is what this is all about!”
In common with other groups OCF has funded, Sustainable Wantage has evolved the scheme over time to create a more considered and long-term response to the needs of the community. As the scheme has developed, Sustainable Wantage has started signing up families and individuals signposted to them by partner charities such as the local advice centre, Crisis and Age UK, rather than taking new sign-ups from the general public. The contact this gives with more vulnerable residents allows the group to signpost people on for additional support from partners as needed, becoming the first port of call for some new service users.
Sustainable Wantage’s COVID-19 response