“They’re just so kind. They’ve really helped me for so long and I can’t even say how grateful I am. I do really look forward to seeing them.” Iris, who lives in north Bermondsey, is one of the dozens of people in south London for whom the charity Age UK delivers shopping either every week or every fortnight, writes Kit Heren…
The day begins at 9am in the Tesco at Surrey Quays. Volunteers, some of whom have learning difficulties, pack up large plastic boxes with the food that customers have asked for. They know what to buy because two days previously other volunteers have called up each customer for a chat and to run through the shopping list.
Standing by the last Tesco checkout, colonised by volunteers for the morning, the day’s coordinator Terry says: “It’s kind of a logistical challenge getting all the right things to the right people. But we tend to get it right!”
As well as the practical mission of delivering people food, Age UK’s Food 2 You service aims to help combat loneliness, which is on the rise in the UK. The charity said in a report published in 2020 that the number of lonely people over 50 will reach 2 million at the current rate – up from 1.4 million in 2014.
At Tesco, with all the boxes packed up in three separate vans making three different trips, partners Kal and Charles clamber, masked-up, into their vehicle. The morning ahead will see them deliver to eight different vulnerable elderly people across Bermondsey, Rotherhithe and north Peckham, who are unable to go shopping themselves for various reasons. Other volunteers take shopping to people elsewhere in Southwark, as well as Lambeth and Lewisham.
The trips are weekly for Charles, a former lorry driver who takes the wheel, and ex-hedge fund manager Kal, who handles the deliveries and puts away the food. But this week is special: alongside their shopping, all the customers will get an Easter egg and a card made and signed by local schoolchildren (although Kal makes sure people who have difficulties with their sight don’t get the card).
At each stop, beginning with a man just off the Old Kent Road, Kal takes one or two boxes inside – keeping his mask on and staying socially distanced where possible. Meanwhile Charles finds somewhere to park up the van. Inside, some people need each item to be put away for them, while others are happy just to be given the food. Money for the shopping changes hands either through a contactless card reader or with cash and customers also pay £5 for the delivery.
Customers’ reactions range from effusively grateful to mildly put out at having been brought the wrong kind of shower gel.
Iris in Bermondsey, who had an accident last year and has lost some of her mobility, falls firmly into the first camp and thanks Kal for the “lovely” gifts. “It’s been hard getting out so much, and with lockdown as well,” she says. “Having Kal here is a real help and it makes so much of a difference.”
Back outside, Kal says that hearing the reactions of people like Iris is one of the reasons why he volunteers with Age UK. “It’s amazing to hear, really. It’s great to know that what you’re doing is actually helping people.”
To make use of the Food 2 You service or volunteer, please visit www.ageuk.org.uk/lewishamandsouthwark/services/food2you/
Alternatively you can call 0207 358 4007