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Food for thought for the G7 summit

Forget climate change, coronavirus or scientific discoveries. The manager of one Cornish foodbank wants world leaders to concentrate on poverty...

Monique Collins and Laurence Reed at DISC in Newquay Photo: Paul Williams

5th May 2021

In the second week of June, the leaders of the UK, USA, Canada, Italy, France, Germany, Japan and other invited countries will converge on West Cornwall to discuss global issues under the gaze of an army of police officers and a pack of international journalists. But Monique Collins from Newquay’s Drop In and Support Centre (DISC) says she has her own crisis on her hands, and it’s getting worse by the week.

Operating from what was the Sandy Lodge Hotel, in Cornwall's surfing capital, a group of volunteers prepare and cook a staggering 8,000 meals a week for those who cannot afford to feed themselves. Although covid put paid to some of their operations, the group has delivered a record 170,000 portions in just 12 months – the charity has never been busier.

The manager for the past four years, Monique, 55, says at least 10 per cent of Newquay’s population (around 22,000 people) are claiming the meals. “That’s just the tip of the iceberg,” she adds. “Many more are just too embarrassed to ask for help.”

Covid has thrown many families into poverty, as some have lost their incomes, their homes and their dignity. Monique told me of one high-flying businessman who lost his job with no redundancy package, leaving him unable to pay his mortgage or put food on the table. Others have been forced to apply for universal credit that can take up to eight weeks to trickle through.

It’s clear this charity’s efforts are vital in stemming the tide of deprivation in a town that has recently become the most popular to move into in Cornwall. If it weren't for the financial support of groups like the Cornwall Community Foundation, and the generosity of the Headland Hotel (which provides fresh fruit) and the HIVE charity (which delivers the meat and veg), then DISC wouldn’t survive.

As it is, it has served up a whopping 60 tonnes of food to the needy since covid first struck, and has given financial support to thousands in Newquay and the surrounding towns and villages.

We are told the G7 summit will provide a major financial boost to Cornwall’s economy, but where there are winners, you can guarantee there will be losers, too. The Sandy Lodge hotel is currently home to a dozen homeless people who will have to be re-housed so officers drafted in to police the event can take up the beds. Monique warns that some 580 homeless people are currently housed in Premier Inns, Travelodges and caravan parks; they will also fall victim to the influx of staff involved in the summit.

The bigger crisis is something I touched on in last week’s column: housing. Newquay’s image is a vast improvement from what it was 10 years ago (strip clubs, stag and hen parties, general drunken debauchery). It’s now seen as a ‘go-to’ destination for both holidays and permanent residence, so much so that Mrs Collins says greedy landlords have hiked up the rents, dramatically, forcing locals out of the town and sometimes onto the streets. Sadly she says people locally are often too proud to ask for help, those who are do so in tears over not being able to feed their children.

Monique is urging the global politicians who will descend on Carbis Bay and St Ives in June, in their armed cavalcades and staying in the poshest hotels, to take a trip over to see Newquay – and other deprived areas like Camborne, Redruth and St Austell – for themselves, and witness first-hand the true picture of Cornwall’s poverty. She even suggests they lend a hand serving up some of the thousands of meals prepared weekly by DISC.

So Boris, Biden, Miss Merkel, Justin and company: Cornwall Isn’t just about sea, sand and surf. Take time out to talk to real locals. But you probably won’t find many in the fishermen’s cottages of West Cornwall: they’ll be owned by city bankers, oh and maybe the odd politician or two!

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