Shop owner who set up food bank says Tories 'not interested' in solving poverty in town
PUBLISHED: 12:53 18 May 2019 | UPDATED: 13:00 18 May 2019
A shop owner who set up a food bank in Great Yarmouth three years ago believes Tory councillors are "not interested" in solving the issue of poverty in the town.
Paul Higgs of Refreshingly Different in Northgate Street has made the claim after Conservative councillor Paul Hammond said residents may use food banks to "top up their larders'" at a council meeting on Thursday night.
Mr Hammond represents the Yarmouth North ward in which North Denes Primary set up its own food bank in response to poverty in the borough.
Mr Higgs, 51, moved to Great Yarmouth five years ago and was shocked by the level of deprivation in the town.
Desperate to help, the 51-year-old opened a community store in 2014 which sold food at considerably lower prices than is available on the shelves of supermarkets.
Although Mr Higgs was able to help several residents who visited his shop he was still concerned by the number of people who could not afford to eat.
He therefore made the decision to convert his community store into a charity shop - which sells jewellery and clothes - while turning his storeroom into a food bank.
"It was heartbreaking to know how many people were struggling to get by," he said.
"I knew if there was a way I could help I wanted to do it and I thought this would be the best option to make a difference."
Mr Higgs' store feeds 50 people a month with four to five residents relying on the food bank on a weekly basis.
The shop owner buys his food at an auction in Norfolk and also receives donations from supermarkets.
Dial - a Great Yarmouth-based charity for people in need - provide residents with a voucher which they can use to pick up their supplies from Refreshingly Different.
Mr Higgs acknowledged what Mr Hammond was trying to suggest at the council meeting but said he "totally missed the point".
He said: "I do agree there are people using food banks who are not in desperate need.
"This then makes it difficult for us to help those who really need it.
"But, I do think they [Conservative councillors] are not interested in solving this problem.
"Mr Hammond has totally missed the point."
Leader of the Great Yarmouth Borough Council and Conservative group in the town Carl Smith, said it was a "priority" for the council to support those in need.
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Labour's reaction to "scandalous" comments;
The leader of the Labour group in Great Yarmouth Trevor Wainwright has labelled Mr Hammond's comments as "appalling".
Mr Wainwright said: "I find his statement absolutely scandalous. It shows how much little he knows about Great Yarmouth."
For the first quarter of 2019, charities across the borough handed out 2,908 food parcels an increase of 39pc compered with this time last year.
Mr Wainwright said the work residents do to support those in need was great but reinforced the message that they should not have to do this in 2019.
"To think it is the 21st century and people are relying on food banks is quite shocking," he said.
"The Tories should be utterly ashamed of themselves. It is appalling"
Mr Wainwright's views were echoed by councillors in the Nelson ward who described the statements made at the council meeting as "shocking" on the ward's Facebook page.
Mr Hammond retained his seat in the Yarmouth North ward earlier this month by two votes ahead of Labour's Sandra Lysaght.