Why Leamington is a ‘town of two faces’

Leamington Parade.'MHLC-31-01-15 General shots NNL-150202-114929009
Leamington Parade.'MHLC-31-01-15 General shots NNL-150202-114929009

Benefit changes, sanctions against “the most vulnerable in society”, unemployment, relationship breakdowns and drug and alcohol addiction has seen more demand for care and advice offered by the 
volunteers who run the Leamington Night Shelter.

The problems faced by people forced to seek help from the centre and survive on emergency food parcels contrasts sharply with an article in the Times this week, which rates Leamington as one of the best places to live for families.

From October 2013 to last September just under 2,740 visits were made by people seeking a bed or food and company at the night shelter at Radford Road church.

Nearly 720 sleeping bags were issued for all-night stays, with nearly 90 per cent of those using them classed as “rough sleepers”, those who sleep in places such as doorways and bus shelters.

While last year saw a big rise in those seeking emergency food aid, with 91 forms issued for people to go to foodbanks to claim for themselves or their families.

But in July to December 2013, only 14 foodbank vouchers were issued and volunteers at the night shelter said it was highly likely that only around 28 applications were made for vouchers for the whole year. The foodbank which serves the Leamington area saw 3,140 people, including 995 children, seek emergency food parcels since last April.

Andy Bower, operations manager of Warwick and Leamington Foodbank, said: “Twelve months ago we were distributing 250 to 300 kg per week of food from our five distribution centres and that now regularly stands at 450 to 500kg. We have certainly seen a demand across the complete age range since the benefit changes.”

Leamington Night Shelter and church centre is authorised by the Department for Work and Pensions to vet applicants and issue foodbank vouchers.

Joint co-ordinator Margaret Moore, who has volunteered there since it opened in 2009, said: “There’s more people coming to us for help – there’s more people hungry.

“There seems to be an air of desperation about some of them. I think it’s probably got worse since the benefit changes started in April. Up to the benefit changes it was ticking along and then it started to go up. In the form we fill in for foodbank vouchers there are 12 questions asking why they need them and the majority of answers now are because of benefit changes and benefit delays.”

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While at Christmas 29 people sought shelter over three days, compared to 11 the year before.

The shelter is a Christian-run organisation offering a place to sleep, food, clothing and toiletries for men and women on Sundays and Wednesday nights, which also gives out at least 10 non-foodbank parcels each and at least 12 pairs of socks.

Fellow co-ordinator Chris Johnson also said more were turning to them for foodbank vouchers because of changes to the benefit system, delays in payments and Job Centre sanctions, such as if people are late or miss an appointment, their benefit is stopped for a period.

He said: “My personal view is that we’ve got bankers getting away with millions, but then we have people on benefits and we starve them. It seems that the most vulnerable in society are penalised the most.”

“We can never forecast how many will turn up on any night. Last Sunday we had 30, with 10 staying all night - nine men and one woman.

“In an ideal world we would close down, but it’s a treadmill of people turning up. I’m afraid it seems like there will always be a need for our service.”