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23 January 2024

RHA’s food hampers and community fridge are a ‘lifeline’ for increasing numbers of people struggling to afford food

RHA’s food hampers and community fridge are a ‘lifeline’ for increasing numbers of people struggling to afford food

“The people we help are often embarrassed when they come to us to ask for help with food,” said Simone Devinett head of communities and enterprise at RHA.

“They feel like it’s their fault, but we always let them know that they are not alone, and many people now need urgent help.

“Once they get their food hamper they are so incredibly grateful - it’s such a huge mix of emotions and it means everything to these people that we’ve helped them.

“It’s heart-breaking that more and more people are relying on us and our food hampers to feed themselves and their families over winter, but we are here to help.”

The winter months have become increasingly busy for the teams at Tonypandy-based RHA housing association, which is doing all it can to support people in need.

As costs have continued to rise, people on lower incomes, including many who live in housing associations, have continued to struggle with affording essentials, including food.

Food banks have become a lifeline for many people, with 67% of Welsh housing associations seeing an increase in food bank referrals in the first six months of 2023, according to research for our Ends Won’t Meet report.

For Simone, head of communities and enterprise at RHA, these figures are unsurprising, as she says that more and more people have used the housing association’s Little’s Shed community fridge throughout winter.

The Little Shed was launched in October 2022 after a group of 30 young people from the Black Sheep youth project, which supports young people to learn skills for work in construction, began refurbishing the space from 2019 onwards.

Thanks to their commitment, the finished community hub now offers vital services, including warm spaces where people can enjoy a hot drink and snack without using their own heating at home.

The Little Shed’s community fridge is open Monday to Friday and redistributes good food, that would otherwise go to waste, to community members who visit the community hub.

Simone added: “We have definitely seen more people coming to The Little Shed and using the community fridge in the winter.

“People who come in to use the community fridge can be in hardship. We get everyone from young mothers and fathers needing help, to elderly people and we get a lot of regular visitors.

“Often you’ll see people a few times, for others they may have decided to use the fridge for the first time and plucked up the courage to do so. It’s really important to us that we eradicate the stigma attached to asking for help with food, our team is here to help people who need support where possible.

“When they come into the hub our teams often chat to them, and this then allows us to see where else we can support them. For example, if they are experiencing social isolation we can invite them to our craft sessions, offer one-to-one support, and try to engage with them to prevent them from being isolated any further.

“We know this is a really difficult time for so many people and we’re doing all we can to help.”

The Little Shed

Alongside its community fridge, RHA also provides vital food hampers to people in need across Rhondda Cynon Taf during winter.

People who receive the hampers are identified as in need by RHA’s payment advisor, and the housing association then gets in touch with them to offer them support.

Dedicated staff fundraise throughout the year to purchase essential items for tenants’ hampers. In 2023, staff raised more than £2,500 through their annual fundraising, which included their 26-mile Hike For Housing walk coordinated by Community Housing Cymru. In 2022 they also completed a 24-hour danceathon.

RHA also receives support to buy items from contractors, and uses its community benefit funds to buy additional goods if it feels that the community need is greater.

Last year the housing association provided even more food hampers across the county, with up to 100 containing essentials delivered to people struggling with rising living costs.

Simone said: “These hampers are an absolute lifeline.

“We make sure we give tenants as many food items as we can that they can realistically use, from peas and bread, to tinned goods, pasta and rice to keep them going.

“We can see that many people are relying on these hampers, as we have delivered to some people every year over the last four or five years as their situation hasn’t improved.

“There’s a misconception that our hampers provide luxury winter goods, but this isn’t the case. These are absolute essentials for people who have nothing in their cupboards.

“We also try to include other things they may need like shower gel, sanitary products, household cleaning items, and donated toys for children.

“People are eternally grateful when we deliver the hampers and it’s so rewarding for us to be able to help.”

In January 2024, with support from partners and Rhondda Cynon Taf's Winter Hardship Fund, RHA is also handing out warm winter packs to those in need.

The housing association’s teams identify tenants needing support during home visits, these people may not be using their heating or aren’t appropriately clothed for the cold weather. They are then given warm winter packs, which include items that help them stay warm and use less energy.

RHA owns and manages more than 2,100 homes across Rhondda Cynon Taf and provides a range of services to more than 3,000 people.

Our Ends Won’t Meet research report is calling on UK and Welsh Governments to take urgent steps to financially protect housing association tenants against ongoing price increases.