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Demand soars for Kentish Town fruit and veg boxes as GP and church chip in

PUBLISHED: 12:10 09 June 2020 | UPDATED: 12:46 09 June 2020

Reverend Alexandra Lilley, priest-in-charge of St George and All Saints. Picture: Kentish Town Vegbox

Reverend Alexandra Lilley, priest-in-charge of St George and All Saints. Picture: Kentish Town Vegbox

Kentish Town Vegbox

An organic vegetable box supplier has praised spontaneous “acts of kindness” from locals who helped meet a surge in demand during lockdown.

The food shed being built at St George and All Saints in Tufnell Park. Picture: Kentish Town VegboxThe food shed being built at St George and All Saints in Tufnell Park. Picture: Kentish Town Vegbox

Kentish Town Vegbox – based at Thanet Youth and Community Centre on Herbert Road – organises weekly deliveries of organic fruit and veg from small-scale farms near London.

When supermarkets struggled to keep pace with panicked shoppers in March and April, the co-operative experienced a 68% surge in membership.

North Londoners were quick to support the supply chain by volunteering in the packing yard and collecting and delivering boxes to isolating families in Camden Town, Chalk Farm and Holloway Road.

Long-term Vegbox members Alex and Anita offered their front yard as a collection point.

The co-operative has experienced a 68% surge in membership. Picture: Kentish Town VegboxThe co-operative has experienced a 68% surge in membership. Picture: Kentish Town Vegbox

They said: “Hosting a shed was a great opportunity for us to give something back while still being very busy with our jobs.

“Many of our friends are getting involved with amazing volunteering projects but we don’t have the capacity to do that at the moment - this was something we could do.”

While a number of veg box schemes across London had to stop accepting new customers in March, Vegbox has grown to serve 454 members.

Reverend Alexandra Lilley, priest-in-charge of St George and All Saints in Tufnell Park, offered the church premises as the site for a new shed and collection point when the Tufnell Park Tavern closed its doors.

Alex and Anita at the Marsden Street collection point. Picture: Kentish Town VegboxAlex and Anita at the Marsden Street collection point. Picture: Kentish Town Vegbox

“We jumped at the opportunity as we wanted to offer a solution to the general panic at the beginning of lockdown.

“The veg scheme acted as a pressure valve relief for the challenges of those early days,” she said.

The church shed is now serving 107 households in the neighbourhood.

Just what the doctor ordered

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Dr Jane Myatt transformed Caversham Group Practice’s kitchen into a food distribution hub at the start of lockdown, using Vegbox surplus produce to feed time-poor staff and vulnerable patients.

Dr Myatt said: “We noticed that some mental conditions such as schizophrenia, psychosis or a multiplicity of chronic diseases were underrepresented in the governmental shielding list, so we took the matter in our own hands.”

“When reaching out to vulnerable patients we found out they hadn’t had any food for up to five days.

“We can bike the food we have prepared here to them immediately, and it’s a meal that feels enriched by having been prepared by their local practice and with the support of the local community.”

New members Miles and Deepa, from Chalk Farm, also feel that Vegbox has helped make up for a shortfall in healthy provisions.

Deepa suffers from Multiple Sclerosis, and the isolating couple had struggled to get hold of fresh veg and fruit, fearing trips to the supermarket.

“This was at a time when supermarkets did not recognise MS as a debilitating condition, but Kentish Town Vegbox did, and we’re very appreciative of that,” they said.

“A volunteer drops our bag at our door every week.

“We haven’t met him properly, it’s just a hand wave from a distance, but it would be nice to be able to say thank you one day.”

Those who have rallied round the Vegbox scheme, volunteers and members alike, have found it a source of communal joy.

Rev. Lilley said: “It’s fantastic to support local farmers and it’s important to promote seasonal and organic food.

“It is beautiful to see how people have responded, with kindness, love and grace.”

As for Alex and Anita: “For now, we’re very happy, but the truth is that we can’t wait for our local collection point, the Gypsy Queen, to re-open so we can go there to pick up our bag and stop for a pint.”

For more information visit vegbox.org.uk


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