Meals on wheels service faces uncertain future, despite soaring demand amid coronavirus

PUBLISHED: 10:02 24 April 2020 | UPDATED: 10:02 24 April 2020

Meals being cooked at LILS.

Meals being cooked at LILS.


A new meals on wheels service in Camden and Haringey has experienced a 70 per cent increase in demand in the first month of coronavirus lockdown.

Tom Cottam, director of strategy and development at LILS.Tom Cottam, director of strategy and development at LILS.

The London Independent Living Service (LILS) said it saw such a dramatic rise in demand that it had to temporarily freeze new referrals.

In February, it was delivering roughly 70 meals per day. By early April, the figure had hit 120.

It has had to take on four new staff members and six volunteers to cope with demand.

The service is a pilot project in London by the team behind Hertfordshire Independent Living Service (HILS), which has been running for 13 years.

LILS delivery drivers are avoiding unnecessary contact with customers amid the coronavirus pandemic.LILS delivery drivers are avoiding unnecessary contact with customers amid the coronavirus pandemic.

It was granted temporary funding by the two borough councils in September, on the proviso that they would withdraw support as soon as it became self-sufficient.

Tom Cottam, director of strategy and development, said: “We had quite a significant challenge in the early days of the pandemic, when some of our staff had to self-isolate. At one point, we had seven out of 15 staff members off.

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“We brought some of the Herts team to London and management covered some deliveries. But we are now rapidly bringing in new starters. We’ve had four start in just a few weeks.

Meals being prepared at London Independent Living Service.Meals being prepared at London Independent Living Service.

“We’ve added six volunteers to our books and we’re bringing in more. That’s been really great as they’ve helped ease the pressure.”

Since mid-March, the service has taken on around 10 new customers per week.

A freeze on new referrals is now being lifted as staff levels catch up with demand.

“If somebody contacts us before 8.30am, we should be able to deliver their first meal the same day,” said Mr Cottam.

He said the extra demand may help secure the service’s future, as it estimates it will need to be delivering roughly 250 meals per day before it becomes self-sufficient.

“Our path to sustainability is quicker,” he said. “But the increased volume means our funding will run out quicker. The funding ends in June. We don’t know when that money will dry up because of our cost base. Hopefully we’ll have brought in additional funding by then. If the money does run out, we have a decision to make and the councils have a decision to make.”

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