Okehampton foodbank 'lifesaver' for jobless

Gemma, Kay and Adrian Vernon Kay and Adrian Vernon were among 232 who lost their jobs at Polestar Foods

Unemployment in the rural Devon town of Okehampton is nearly 12% after the closure of two factories, with another factory closure happening in April.

As a result, local people say a charity which hands out free food has been a lifesaver.

Adrian Vernon had been employed as a stores worker at Polestar Foods for 15 years when he got a phone call on Friday 28 January.

The call from a manager was to say that the firm had gone into administration and that he should not go into work on Monday.

His wife Kay, 44, who had worked at Polestar for 20 years as a packer, also lost her job.

The couple who have a daughter, Gemma, four, were suddenly without any money coming in.

Mr Vernon, 39, said: "I got a crisis loan from the benefits agency of £80.

"We had just that and the foodbank for the next two weeks."

TIMELINE: OKEHAMPTON FACTORY CLOSURES

  • Polestar, 232 jobs, January
  • Browne's Chocolates, 20 jobs, March
  • Robert Wiseman Dairy, 67 jobs, April

The foodbank is run by the Trussell Trust, which operates a network of 90 similar operations across the country.

Staff and volunteers collect food from supermarket shoppers, school and harvest festivals.

Normally the food is then distributed for vouchers which are handed out by doctors, health workers, social workers, the Citizens' Advice Bureau and probation officers, among others.

In Okehampton, the sudden closure of so many workplaces meant the charity ditched the usual arrangements.

Foodbank The foodbank has abandoned normal rules in the face of high demand in Okehampton

Local worker Andrew Morgan said: "During this time of crisis we are looking at people on a need by need basis.

"It is a small community and people know where the genuine need is."

The foodbank used to support five local families and now it supports 50.

The Vernon family was reliant on it for the two weeks until benefits and redundancy payments came through.

"It was fantastic," said Mr Vernon. "It's amazing the stuff people put in.

"It was a lifesaver."

Sold for scrap

The local foodbank is renewing its appeal for help, as more people turn to the charity for free food.

Across the UK, the Trussell Trust has helped 60,000 people in the past financial year, compared with 41,000 during the previous 12-month period.

The Vernons are now relying on jobseeker's allowance while they try to find work.

Their car has been sold for scrap after they got an £800 estimate for repairs.

Polestar has been bought by another company, but there has been no news yet on whether the factory will reopen.

Mr Vernon has started a computer training course and is writing to local factories.

There is some hope in the town that, with the tourism season around the corner, there will at least be some seasonal work.

But former mayor of Okehampton Kay Bickley said: "People are fearful.

"To take three factories out of the equation and cause such a large increase in unemployment is a difficult situation to manage for the town."

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