Pembroke House’s volunteer cyclists deliver food and medicine to thousands

Katherine Johnston (22 April, 2020)

During the war Pembroke House was an air-raid shelter, now it's a food distribution centre during the COVID-19 crisis

36319Food donations at Pembroke House during lockdown in April

Thousands across south London are receiving food and vital supplies from Pembroke House’s team of volunteer delivery cyclists.

The community centre is running the free service for self-isolating residents who are being ‘shielded’ for the coming weeks as well as those who are unwell, out of work as a result of the lockdown, or particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. It is hoped they can double their reach by the end of April.


Last week 50 bike riders clocked up 144 hours in the saddle getting food to where it’s needed.  In just seven days they delivered two tonnes of groceries and 214 cooked meals to 323 households and an emergency insulin prescription.

Deliveries are made to residents referred by local groups or GP surgeries. They range from a newborn baby whose mum has just been discharged from hospital with Covid-19, to a 101-year-old, as well as struggling families in multiple occupancy households.

The scheme is a partnership with Southwark Council, Fooditude, Hubub and Bermondsey Employment and Skills Training.

Others to volunteer time and resources include rugby club Burgess Sports, and Aylesbury Estate’s Creation Trust, who cooked the hot meals.

volunteer Saleem

Pembroke House volunteer Rich Mason, who set up the bicycle deliveries, said: “For the past few months I’ve been thinking about how to create a more ethical food delivery service in London, and when the coronavirus crisis came along, I was poised to jump into action.”

Among the volunteers who have stepped up to help are furloughed cafe and bar staff, chefs, students, freelance creatives out of work, local councillors and builders.

Mike Wilson, Pembroke House’s executive director, said: “Throughout our history, Pembroke House has stood ready to use one of our great assets – our building – to help the community in times of crisis.

“During the Second World War, we became an air-raid shelter. Fortified by blast walls, our hall sheltered 250 people from falling bombs.

“Walworth has always been a community that’s pulled together in tough times and it’s amazing to see the neighbourhood come together at this time of crisis as well.”

To keep volunteers and residents safe the distribution hub at Pembroke House has been designed with social distancing in mind with a one-way system.

All riders go out with hand sanitiser, ensure they handle the food safely, and place the parcels on people’s doorsteps before stepping away.

The scheme has been a partnership with local groups including Southwark Council, Fooditude, Bermondsey Employment and Skills Training and Hubub.

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COVID-19Pembroke House