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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Weir (Local Democracy Reporter)

Councillors discuss initiatives to tackle poverty in the community

Mid and East Antrim Mayor Cllr William McCaughey at the opening of a community fridge in Islandmagee.

A community fridge is due to open in the dementia-friendly garden at Larne promenade where food can be obtained free of charge, Mid and East Antrim councillors have been told.

Another two are located in Islandmagee Community Gardens and Eden Allotment Gardens. with donations made by leading supermarkets and a food distributor.

Further interest in Mid and East Antrim has been expressed by residents in Harryville, Ballymena, Millbrook in Larne and Carnlough.

Speaking at a meeting of the borough council’s Direct Services Committee on Tuesday evening, Knockagh DUP Councillor Marc Collins praised Greenisland Baptist Church for making food tables available to the local community during the pandemic.

The church will be supporting the opening of a community fridge in Greenisland.

Meanwhile, councillors have agreed to write to Education Minister Michelle McIlveen seeking an extension to the School Holiday Food Grant Scheme until Easter 2023.

The scheme is due to run until Easter 2022.

A report to the Mid and East Antrim councillors says that addressing “holiday hunger is a priority” for the local authority.

In November 2020, then Education Minister Peter Weir announced that the £40m School Holiday Food Grant Scheme would run until Easter 2022 which the council has described as “a lifeline” for local families.

The scheme was introduced for children who normally receive a free school meal to enable them to have access to a nutritious meal without placing their family under further financial hardship during school holidays.

More than 100,000 children in Northern Ireland are currently entitled to a free school meal.

Larne Lough Alliance Councillor Danny Donnelly proposed contacting schools in the borough to see how the council can help.

He stated that the council needs to “do more than write a letter”.

“We really should be doing all we can to support people in need in our area at this time.”

At this week’s meeting, councillors heard that the local authority’s Poverty Action Group has been supporting vulnerable families during the pandemic and partners are “acutely aware” of the level of need that continues to exist and increase in Mid and East Antrim.

One hundred and 20 families have benefited from vouchers for gas, electricity and food and 60 heated throws have been distributed to older people living alone.

During the first lockdown in 2020, a community hub was established for distribution of 4,000 food parcels to 532 referrals in the borough.

Deputy Mayor Councillor Matthew Armstrong expressed concern over an increasing number of people in employment whom he said, despite “working their socks off”, often for a minimum wage, have to use use food banks and cannot afford to pay £1,000 for home heating oil.

“There are people out there working their socks off and are just about getting by,” he stated.

Carrickfergus Alliance Councillor Lauren Gray welcomed progress on tackling period poverty in the borough in association with Equality Period NI which has provided products for community centres to be replaced by the council at a cost of £5 per month per centre.

Cllr Gray called for period products to be made available free of charge in the borough’s leisure centres.


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