A FOODBANK providing a lifeline for the homeless and needy in the Sandown and Lake area during these Covid times is being forced to close its doors following an official complaint from a local councillor — a move which has stirred a hornets' nest among its many supporters.

Free Food in Sandown, which has been operating since May last year, provides food and other items, such as clothing, for those hit hardest during the pandemic.

The charity, which moved into new premises (formerly Prams on Plans) in Lake High Street, the day before the start of the second lockdown, is in such demand it provides food for up to 500 people a week.

Isle of Wight County Press:

But following an official complaint from a local councillor in Lake recently, the Isle of Wight Council is attempting to force restrictions on the foodbank's operation.

Read more: https://www.countypress.co.uk/news/18884000.isle-wight-small-shops-covid-lockdown-poor-relations/

Ironically, the local authority has been one of the charity's supporters during the pandemic, having given them grant funding to provide food as a stop-gap for homeless charity, People off the Streets, and support charity, Help Through Crisis.

The council had also entered an agreement with Free Food in Sandown for them to liase more closely with the homeless — to discover their needs and to refer them to Help Through Crisis.

Isle of Wight County Press: Dott Perrett, who established Free Food in Sandown.Dott Perrett, who established Free Food in Sandown.

Free Food in Sandown has also received funding support from the government's Covid Fund, WightAid and big supermarket chains Co-op and Waitrose, and many other sources.

They provide the needy and homeless with food essentials, from fresh vegetables, bread and eggs, to tinned food, cakes and toiletries.  

On average, their shelves are being filled five times a day and up to many more times on a busy day, with shelves emptying within ten minutes in some instances.

Dott Perrett, who started the charity, said she will be keeping her door open, albeit with restrictions.

Isle of Wight County Press:

"I had a visit from a council enforcement officer last night (Friday)," said Dott, 67.

"He said he received a complaint from a local councillor and asked what my justification was to being open and told me what we could and couldn't do during the pandemic.

"I signed a contract with the council to provide a service, so it looks like one department does not know what the other is doing.

"He came at the end of the day, when the shelves were empty, and said we didn't have enough food to give to anyone and questioned why we should be open.

"He said we should block the door so that when anyone comes to us wanting our help, they knock on the door and we pass them food. We still have to pay the £320 rent.

"People should not have to discuss their business in the street when they come to us.

"We are not a traditional foodbank. We also sell clothing for £1 and toys."

Free Food in Sandown, which received charity status in February, has 12 volunteers, provides food six days a week and arranges deliveries on the other day to as far afield as Ventnor and Ryde and to Southern Housing Group properties.

"No foodbank on the Island operates as extensively as we do. Without us being there, there would be a lot more problems on the street.

"I'm not going to close up, but we will now not be allowing people to browse in the shop. They will have to call us to arrange to come and pick up food from the shop" added Dott defiantly.

"But if someone needs clothes desperately, or a toy, to improve someone's mental wellbeing, I'm not going to say no to them.

"We will always go the extra mile and try to connect with the individual. But we can't do it if we have to put barriers up.

"Being more restricted and having a complaint from a councillor against you is a big bugbear.

"Having a black mark against you, people will be less inclined to support us and what we do in the community."

Among the huge number who commented angrily in support of the charity on its Facebook page, was Ceri Dent, who said: "Perhaps the local councillors who support this very much-needed outlet can help the team in making the charity's premises ‘Covid secure’, so it can continue to feed those most in need.

"If other commercial profit-making businesses can be open for takeaway foods, surely a not-for-profit charity being a local community lifeline can operate?

"Surely someone can help rather than place barriers."

Laura Murthwaite added: "Absolutely disgusting a place helping people is being forced not to run its service! Disgraceful."

Labour's Richard Quigley, a supporter of Free Food in Sandown, said: "I think most of us realise this lockdown was necessary to prevent the overloading on the NHS through winter.

"It is, however, difficult to understand why some retailers are allowed to be open and others aren't.

"In this case, Dott does an amazing job helping those in need, so reporting her seems extremely mean-spirited.

"It was only last Wednesday we had the first meeting of the cross-party task force looking to help people in the way Dott does. 

"I hope Cllr Paul Brading can point that out to whoever reported Dott.

"I also ask him to find a solution to allow her to continue providing free food. It would also be very civic-minded if they encouraged her to apply for the new discretionary grants available to shops affected by the latest lockdown."

The Isle of Wight Council has been approached for a statement.