Volunteers at a Bolton food bank say they are struggling to help vulnerable people because they are having to work out of a cold and damp building.
For more than ten years, Bolton NICE has been a go-to hub for people in need of access food, emergency supplies and career opportunities.
Alongside a charity shop on Moor Lane near the town centre, the group operates a hub where people can collect supplies.
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The hub was originally based at the Quest Center in Halliwell thanks to support from Bolton Council.
However, last summer, Bolton Council took back ownership of the building and provided Bolton NICE with a new hub at Moses Gate in Farnworth to store and supply food.
While the council gave the group ‘temporary’ rent free use of the building through the pandemic, the group says it is not fit for purpose.
Volunteers have claimed the building is rat-infested and it is too cold to work from.
“It’s cold, it’s damp and there’s rats – we aren’t able to use it properly,” organizer Martin McLoughlin, 71, told the Manchester Evening News.
“It’s a small, inadequate industry unit and many find it too cold to work there.
“I’m in my 70s and we have many volunteers of a similar age to me and some who are older. We have to tell them not to come in because the building is just too cold.
“We want to be there for people, but it’s really difficult at the moment.”
Martin says Bolton Council sourced the new hub for the group and were even given six month’s rent free, but now he says the council is asking for them to start paying rent.
“It’s always been a temporary fix and we know that,” Martin explains.
“But we can’t afford to pay rent – especially when it’s something many of our volunteers can’t even use.
“It’s frustrating for us because we have 35 people working for nothing – many who have been with us for over ten years.
“All we’re asking is to be able to get on with what we’re doing instead of worrying about how we’re going to pay rent or keep warm.”
Martin says that in addition to the building’s condition, the relocation has made it difficult for previous service users to access.
While the group has always tried to help people borough-wide, they still get a lot of people from Halliwell who are unable to get to the new center in Farnworth easily.
He says: “Moses Gate is on the other side of town to Halliwell.
“Transport is a huge problem for so many people, it’s difficult for people to get to us.
“These are people who are already struggling. They can’t afford bus fares on top of that.”
As a result, volunteers have had to up their deliveries to those unable to get to the new center – at a cost to them.
“We’re still trying to support people by taking food and items from them,” Martin adds.
“We’re having to pay for fuel to get them but it’s money we don’t have.
“We have 2,000 people on the books but because we’re limited on what we can do, it’s nowhere near like what it was because people can’t get to us.
“Last year, we could get 60 people in within an hour and sorted out. Now, we’re not able to do anything like that because we’re having to drive around everywhere one by one.
“We know there’s people struggling and we have all these volunteers who want to help but we’re hitting a brick wall, we’re getting nowhere.
“It’s difficult, it’s heartbreaking.”
In response to the claims, Bolton Council said it has supported Bolton NICE with one-to-one support and free accommodation.
A spokesperson for Bolton Council said: “Bolton Council has supported Bolton NICE by providing free accommodation since May 2020, firstly at the Quest Center and subsequently at the new premises.
“It has always been made clear that the provision of a free premises was a temporary solution while the charity assisted with the COVID-19 response.
“We have also helped the charity access one-to-one support from Bolton CVS to help them develop a business plan to become more sustainable.”
Martin says that he and his team are now on the lookout for new premises in a better location that will enable all of their volunteers to get back to helping people in Bolton.
“We need a permanent fix,” he explains.
“We’ve moved six times in the last ten years and we need people to know where they can come. It makes things difficult otherwise.
“We’ve always said we don’t offer people a handout, it’s more of a hand up. But, it’s difficult to provide that when we’re always moving around and having to adjust things.
“All we’re asking for is a building that isn’t being used that has enough room for us to work and that’s in the right area for people to get to us.”
Anyone with knows of a suitable building for Bolton NICE can contact the group via their Facebook page or website.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.