Chipping Norton Leisure Centre, closed due to the Coronavirus, has been re-purposed to provide the base for The Chippy Larder: a membership programme that enables individuals and households from across the community to have access to affordable and nutritious food.

The initiative is a collaboration between Better, the charitable social enterprise that operates Chipping Norton Leisure Centre and The Chippy Larder. Food is provided by SOFEA, which sources provisions from surpluses generated by the Thames Valley region’s supermarkets.  Much of this food would end up in landfill if it was not collected by SOFEA.

The original concept for The Chippy Larder was to operate on a subscription system, where members pay a monthly fee via direct debit and come to the larder weekly to select the food that they would like. A family would pay £17.32 per month (approximately £4 per week) and select 20 Items from larder, plus fruit and vegetables for the week.  An Individual would pay £8.36 per month (approximately £1.93 per week) and select 10 Items from larder, plus fruit and vegetables for the week.

The Coronavirus has seen many people lose their jobs and fall into poverty, this resulted in the Chippy Larder expanding its offering to anyone in need, with those using the service invited to pay a £2 donation – but only if they can afford.

In recent weeks the Larder has received 450 requests for support, made up of those on low incomes and the vulnerable. Applicants can collect their food parcels once a week from the leisure centre or request for it to be delivered directly to their homes. A small team of volunteers including Chipping Norton Leisure Centre staff: Will James, Phil Stanley and Lewis Brain along with Chipping Norton Town Councillor Rizvana Poole and  Philip Sharman of the town’s  St. Marys’ Church arrange parcels outside the leisure centre for collection or pack cars ready for home deliveries.

Commenting on the initiative, Cllr Rizvana Poole said: “I want to thank the team at Chipping Norton leisure centre for supporting me in my vision. Chipping Norton Leisure Centre, whilst always an integral part of the town has become the hub of our community during this time of uncertainty.”

John Busby, Partnership Manager for Better leisure centres in West Oxfordshire added: “To make good use of the leisure centre, while it is officially closed, made perfect sense. The Coronavirus has led to real hardship for many and we were keen to do our bit to help.  A number of our staff are now volunteering at the project, while the leisure centre building acts as a distribution hub. 

“We’re careful to following good practice guidelines at all times including social distancing, using PPE when appropriate, along with hand sanitiser.”