A CHARITY that delivered thousands of hot meals to elderly residents across the Forest shocked customers and supporters last week by announcing its sudden closure - two years after it was saved by a mystery benefactor.
The team behind Forest Mobile Meals in Cinderford said they were “very sad” to announce it would cease operations on Friday (April 29), in a statement made last Tuesday afternoon (April 26).
Core team member Melvyn Wilkins said he couldn’t reveal the specific reasons behind the closure, though he stated on social media that although the charity was short of funding, there were a number of other issues at play.
But he said the closure didn’t necessarily mean the end of the service, and hinted that it could come back in some form in the near future.
The charity launched in March 2020 following the closure of the former 30 year-old service ran by Age Concern Forest of Dean, thanks to a mystery benefactor - later revealed to be retired businessman Martyn Swaffield - putting up all the money to start the charity, re-hire staff and lease the former Age Concern premises.
A statement from the charity reads: “It is with great sadness that we have to announce Forest Mobile Meals will cease operating on Friday April 29th.
“After starting 2 years ago, just as Covid-19 hit, battling equipment problems, volunteer shortages, staff changes and a raft of other issues we managed to keep going.
“Unfortunately we are at a point now where we have to cease trading due to circumstances beyond our control.
“The team and volunteers have worked tirelessly to keep the charity going but it has become impossible to continue.
“We know the impact that this will have, not only to our clients within the Forest of Dean but also to their families or carers who will now have to make alternative arrangements, for this we are truly sorry.
“We would especially like to thank our team of volunteer delivery drivers who gave up their free time and without whom we wouldn’t have been able to get the meals out, also to our fantastic kitchen and admin team who kept things running back at the Cinderford kitchen.
“To our original benefactor and everyone that has supported us and given donations to us over the last 2 years we send our heartfelt and grateful thanks.”
Asked about the reasons behind the closure, Melvyn told The Review: “I can’t say too much at this current time, it’s got more to do with the governance of the charity as opposed to how it’s being run.
“We’ve battled through this for several months and sadly we’ve reached a point where it’s impossible for us to continue.
“That’s not to say that it the future, with the right support, we would’t be able to start something up again, but it wouldn’t be as Forest Mobile Meals, it would be as something else.”
He added: “It’s a very sad day.”
Forest Mobile Meals was founded in March 2020 after Age Concern Forest of Dean announced in January that year that it was closing its meals-on-wheels service, which had catered for around 130 elderly people at home and 10 luncheon clubs, as well as providing meals at Newnham Primary School.
The closure left the service’s customers in need before Mr Swaffield came to their aid, funding the service’s commercial kitchens in Cinderford, re-employing staff and relaunching as Forest Mobile Meals.
Shortly after the relaunch, the UK went into lockdown for the first time, which threw up multiple challenges for the charity.
They lost their school, residential care home and lunch club customer base, and also had to close their two charity shops for a time, in line with Government restrictions.
They also had to launch an urgent appeal for more volunteer drivers to come forward, with many of their retirement-age drivers having to self isolate.
Then, when lockdown restrictions began to ease, the team came up with the idea of running a takeaway service for local businesses and the community from their Cinderford premises to subsidise the meals service.
The service was a “great success” in covering the funding shortfall, with the charity also receiving support from Forest of Dean District Council during that period.
Local businesses also stepped in to donate equipment and help raise funds, with much of the charity’s own equipment in need of repair.
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