Preen 'begging' for new home as demand for Biggleswade foodbank soars by more than 2,000%

Preen fears this figure could double at the start of the school holidays – and again in September

By Euan Duncan
Wednesday, 13th July 2022, 5:00 pm
Updated Thursday, 14th July 2022, 3:14 pm

A community reuse centre in Biggleswade has seen demand for its foodbank services soar from around ten people a week pre-pandemic to 993 last month.

Kathy Lewis, who runs Preen, warns it will get worse, predicting this figure will double at the start of the school holidays and potentially again at the end of the summer break in September.

Ms Lewis would like new premises whether or not her lease is extended for the current site.

The current Preen site in Biggleswade

“We’ve been there for 15 years and we’re just getting steadily busier,” she told a town council meeting. “I would encourage you to be our champions if there’s any help you can give us with a new building.

“When we moved into our site in Sun Street, it had been empty for 12 years. We’ve done the best we can with it, and our landlord is fantastic and has been very good to us.

“But it’s beyond economic repair and he has to make the decisions whether he knocks it down or not. In this weather, it’s absolutely horrendous and sometimes I have to close. In winter, it’s colder inside than it is outside.”

Describing it as “a viable social enterprise”, she explained that £2.5m to buy the site in its current location “wouldn’t be a good use of this money”. Obtaining land elsewhere would provide the warehouse space needed.

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“In September, the landlord will decide whether to renew the leases of the two organisations on there or put it up for sale,” according to Ms Lewis.

“We need to decide whether we move out of Biggleswade,” she added. “We need a retail park size unit and help to identify a piece of land we could acquire.

“There’s plenty of goodwill to keep us in the town. But we need to move beyond that now and come up with a plan. I can’t let the social enterprise fail.”

She suggested it would be equally as popular if it relocated to Hitchin or Letchworth. “We love living here. It’s a great community. We’d started a foodbank before the pandemic and I perhaps did ten a week.

“Last month, we had 993 people. That’s plenty of food. This number will double at the start of the summer holidays and probably double again at the end, when bills begin to kick in.

“It’s not free food for people on benefits. That’s not what we’re about. The people who visit are working. People regarded as essential workers during lockdown are coming to my foodbank because they can’t afford to live.

“I’m begging really. I don’t want to lose this project, not for me but for the people who really need us in this town. We don’t want to leave.”

Town mayor Grant Fage said: “I’m struck by some of those figures and it’s worrying to hear the direction of travel you predict. It would be a huge loss to Biggleswade.

“We don’t have that kind of space to offer as a council, but we’ll be in touch if there’s anything we see.”