Clacton on Sea: Helping those in need

PUBLISHED: 12:47 01 August 2016 | UPDATED: 12:47 01 August 2016

Clacton Pier entrance

Clacton Pier entrance

Chris King

As one of the UK’s most popular seaside resorts, Clacton is a special place for a day trip or a family break, but delve below the surface and you will find a local community that is working together to help those in need

Arcades, buckets and spades, beachside fish and chips and a pier full of rides – when it comes to the traditional British seaside resort, few can rival Clacton on Sea as the place to be.

Every summer, Clacton hosts its popular two-day air show and a carnival, plus the Princes Theatre and the Westcliff Theatre offer a fabulous programme of entertainment. The town centre has many familiar retail names and restaurant chains while the Clacton Factory Outlet sits on the outskirts of the town offering retail therapy and ample parking, as well as being generously served by bus routes.

From the pier to Holland Haven, the seafront has just benefitted from a £36 million coastal defence project which has created 22 new lovely beaches as well as providing peace of mind for residents and businesses in the area.

Clacton relies heavily on its tourism, from day trippers to those booking a short break or a longer family holiday. With cheap package holidays luring people abroad and the recession taking its toll, some say that the town has taken a bit of a knock since its peak during the 1950s, 60s and 70s. For many visitors during those decades, Clacton became a desirable retirement location and the demographic of the town is older than the average for the county and the country.

Clacton has a modern townscapeClacton has a modern townscape

It has also been well documented that Clacton (like many other seaside towns) has had its share of unemployment, but it is clear that the sense of community is strong in the town and there are many people and local businesses keen to chip in and play their part to provide employment and opportunity for local people.

One group in particular has been fired into action thanks to the support of a national charity – FoodCycle. Its aim is to reach members of the community who are either affected by food poverty or simply in need of a place to meet, enjoy some company and the support of others, and to receive some nourishment too.

FoodCycle was founded in 2008 by student Kelvin Cheung, who was joined at the time by fellow students all passionate about food waste. Although supportive of the idea of food banks, the concern was whether a person collecting food has a kitchen, or even a home. For someone without the facilities or possibly the knowledge of how to cook, the challenge was greater. Their idea was to gather free surplus food from suppliers and put it to good use by cooking it and inviting people to come and eat it.

Students are no strangers to learning how to cook when they first leave home or to eking out a minimal budget, and with the initial volunteer base being students, these new ‘food hubs’ were prominent in many university towns and cities. Now the charity supports 29 projects in different locations across the country, including one in Clacton on Sea, with more groups applying to the charity for support.

Food is prepared at the Clacton HubFood is prepared at the Clacton Hub

Clare Skelton, FoodCycle’s marketing and communications manager, explains: ‘We have an excellent bank of volunteers who will all meet on a set morning of the week and will gather up food from local major supermarkets, markets and bakeries, which will then be taken back to a kitchen space. In Clacton’s case it is a church hall.

‘It really is rather like Ready, Steady, Cook as the volunteers will not know from one week to the next what food to expect. It could include a glut of aubergines, bananas or, in one week, it was two enormous trays of cherries. The good quality and quantity of the food being given, effectively thrown away, is staggering. The food is used to cook a healthy, three-course meal completely free for the guests. We aim to provide something of a restaurant experience with our guests enjoying table service with flowers on the table and proper cutlery and crockery.’

So how do people hear of the food hub? ‘Often it’s by word of mouth and sometimes a guest may be referred by another service,’ adds Clare. ‘One of our charity partners is MIND, the national mental health charity. Whatever the circumstance in which they come to us, we hope to provide them with a good experience where they can enjoy a good meal and meet with others from the community.’

The food is vegetarian, which can be an eye opener for some guests. Clare explains: ‘Although the food that is given to us is not past its use by date, when it comes to meat and fish it is best not to take risks. It also means that what we provide is open to all — even those observing special diets. People are usually very impressed and not deterred by the lack of meat. Also, whatever food is left over after the meal is prepared, is divided up and distributed among the guests to take away with them.’

Guests at the Clacton Hub are served a range of vegetarian meals created from produce that is thrown out by local supermarketsGuests at the Clacton Hub are served a range of vegetarian meals created from produce that is thrown out by local supermarkets

Robyn Stone is manager of the Clacton Hub, which offers a hot meal to those in need every Monday at the Trinity Methodist Church. ‘Every week we serve between 60 to 80 guests, providing food and companionship too,’ says Robyn. ‘We also have two workers from Mind who attend every week to help out and offer one-to-one support if needed. Our hub has a lovely, lively atmosphere with good banter between volunteers and guests. Whenever I visit them I always leave feeling uplifted.’

This year, from January to June, the hub has served 1,047 meals, with two thirds of the guests saying they feel more connected to the local community since attending a FoodCycle meal.

Robyn adds: ‘All our volunteers are local to Clacton and are a good solid group who turn up every week and who, through their involvement, have become great friends. It is also important to mention the cooperation and support of our suppliers such as Morrisons, Sainsburys and local business The Bakehouse.’

Sally McAteer has helped at the Clacton Hub for four years. Sally was a teacher in Clacton at Colbaynes High School (now Clacton Coastal Academy) for 13 years and when she retired was keen to make use of her spare time. She explains what the hub and the charity means to her. ‘What we do is very simple, we turn up at seven in the morning and start peeling and chopping so some people can have their one decent hot meal of the week by 12.30pm every Monday,’ says Sally.

Guests at the Clacton Hub are served a range of vegetarian meals created from produce that is thrown out by local supermarketsGuests at the Clacton Hub are served a range of vegetarian meals created from produce that is thrown out by local supermarkets

‘Right from the start of being involved with the charity I was hooked. The concept meets with my values, from disliking the idea of food waste to it being a vegetarian diet, and through to the simple act of treating all people as humans – as equals. Some of our guests may have gone through sudden and dramatic life changes regardless of their backgrounds and that could potentially be any one of us under different circumstances.’

Find out more

Do you like cooking or meeting people? The Clacton Hub is always looking for more volunteers to help serve meals at Foodcycle Clacton. To find out more, register online at www.foodcycle.org.uk/get-stuck-in/volunteer

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