Wigan duo running Fur Clemt get Heart of the Community award
Shirley Southworth and Katy Brittain, the directors of the organisation, received the accolade at Fur Clemt's Montrose Avenue base.
The organisation keeps edible food out of landfill and supports residents on the breadline.
And it had to work harder than ever to support people and achieve its green goals in 2020, when the Covid-19 pandemic has brought vast changes in everyday life and how groups operate.
However, Fur Clemt has risen to the challenge, in recent months organising huge efforts to get lunches out to children during the half-term holidays and hampers to those who have helped others this year.
Sadly, though, the novel coronavirus also means that more Wiganers than ever have been getting in touch looking for help.
The awards were presented by Wigan Council portfolio holder for communities Coun Chris Ready in a surprise ceremony.
Shirley said: “It’s really nice to be recognised after a difficult year. We have worked really hard and have been busier than ever.
“The membership of our food share scheme has doubled, we’ve now got 2,300 people on that. We’ve had 100 people coming through the door every day.
“Our warehouse space has also doubled to keep the amount of food we’ve now got coming in.
“Our workload has increased a lot. More people are struggling through being on the furlough scheme or losing their jobs.
“For us it’s about really making sure the people of Wigan don’t suffer unnecessarily, especially where food is concerned.”
Katy, who is also Shirley’s daughter, said the need in the borough for services like Fur Clemt’s has been increasing as the coronavirus pandemic has taken its economic toll in 2020.
She said: “It has been so busy this year seeing the amount of people who are in need. We know it’s there but it’s just getting worse and worse.
“We’ve had people who’ve always been alright, who have worked for themselves or had money. It has not been an issue and then suddenly they have found themselves really struggling.
“It’s shocking to see people who have never needed to ask for help finding themselves in a mess so quickly.
“It has been difficult for a lot of people. In the run-up to Christmas we had families who didn’t have toys for their children.”
Throughout the year Fur Clemt has enjoyed considerable support from Wigan’s generous residents.
When Covid-19 hit in spring and a national lockdown was announced in mid-March the organisation sent all its volunteers home to keep them safe.
However, volunteers then started asking if they could come back, with Wiganers eagerly stepping up to deliver hampers or to work in the kitchens making meals for Age UK.
Fur Clemt’s shop had to remain closed for longer, finally reopening with a maximum of six people in there at once, hand washing at the front and social distancing measures in place.
The teams of volunteers were then needed once again in October when a wave of public support for ensuring children would get lunchtime meals during the half-term holidays swept the country, with Manchester United and England footballer Marcus Rashford MBE spearheading the campaign.
Fur Clemt had fed children for free during school holidays in its cafe for years, with tackling holiday hunger a key reason behind its founding in 2014, but with the eatery unable to open another solution had to be found.
Shirley said: “We were approached by Eat Drink Wigan wanting to do something on a big scale. It was crazy.
“In the end we did thousands of packed lunches so children got fed.”
Volunteers were also distributed around the borough once more in December giving out hampers to people who had been nominated for helping others or generally being an unsung hero.
Those who had done tasks like shopping for other people locally, key workers and those who had simply had a difficult time in 2020 all received large boxes full of goodies.
Fur Clemt was also at the heart of the response to lockdown, supporting Wigan Council in getting food parcels out to vulnerable people who were shielding, residents who wre struggling to get to the shops or those who had been left with no income.
Unfortunately, Shirley says she is not confident the problems Wigan has faced in 2020 are going to improve in the short term.
She said: “I’m hoping next year is going to be easier but not holding out much hope.
“Until we get the mass vaccination programme going it’s going to be tough.
“People will be in need with the furlough scheme finishing.
“We’re just going to do what we always do and keep going.”
For more information visit www.furclemt.co.uk
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