The community fridge fighting a trio of social issues
- Credit: Sonya Duncan
Last month an ambitious new project launched with the aim of tackling hunger, loneliness and food waste in a growing rural town.
In the nine weeks since, the Wymondham Community Fridge has become a hub for people across the community to forge friendships and access non-judgemental financial support.
Founded by double act Arnie McConnell and Theresa Wiseman, both from Wymondham, the community fridge and kitchen provides free food donated by local supermarkets to anyone wanting to get involved.
Wymondham in Lidl provides landfill-destined fresh food several times a week, which Mr McConnell picks up in his Berlingo van and distributes between local schools and the Community Fridge.
On Tuesday lunchtimes a team of 12 volunteers roll up their sleeves in the specially renovated kitchen at Our Lady and St Thomas of Canterbury church on Norwich Road to prepare a home cooked meal for the community.
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Ms Wiseman said people from all walks of life attended the 'pay what you can' meals and that it was not uncommon to have a millionaire dining next to someone living on the streets.
She added that although the initiative was based at the church, many of their volunteers were not Catholic and that people of all faiths and belief systems were welcome.
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Mr McConnell said one of the project's primary aims was to be inclusive and so the small team was constantly thinking of creative ways to break down stigma.
Whereas similar initiatives such as foodbanks require people to be referred following an income assessment, the community fridge encourages everyone to use the service, whatever their financial situation.
He added: 'A lot of people who come in for the first time have a sense of shame that they are struggling and that stigma is a difficult thing to break down. Most of them want to know how they can give back and become volunteers.'
Wilkinson House, a supported housing centre for homeless men, is just a two-minute walk from the church and support worker Janine Rice said for many of its service users, the group meal was their only opportunity for a hot meal all week.
She said: 'A lot of the men are on benefits and it's a real struggle to feed themselves. Projects like this help them stay on budget.'
Ms Rice said the initiative not only helped with money problems, but also addressed the varied social needs of the men.
She said: 'Many of our guys are ex offenders and seeing them come here and chat with the little old ladies is amazing, it does wonders for getting them used to being in the community again.
'When someone is very anxious coming over here once a week gets them used to social settings and they know they've at least got a dinner and chat to look forward to. It goes a long way.'
Ms Rice said Mr McConnell regularly collected and delivered food to the centre.
As well as providing much needed financial relief, the weekly lunches give isolated people an opportunity to connect and forge unexpected friendships.
Geoffrey Botterman from Wymondham is unable to work due to disability and said he had been growing increasingly lonely during the day as his wife worked.
The 65-year-old, who said he was still adjusting to a quieter home after the departure of his grown up daughters, said the Community Kitchen had bought him closer to people he recognised but did not have the confidence to speak to.
Moya Kingwell lost her husband nine years ago and agreed the project provided welcome respite from living alone.
The 77-year-old from Wymondham said: 'Having company makes a lot of difference. When you're on your own it can be lonely and if I wasn't here I would be cooking by myself.
'I have a very nice next door neighbour but you don't like to keep knocking on their door because people have things to do. For me it's lovely to come and talk to people.'