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Harrow’s Community Kitchen future uncertain due to possible funding cut

The future of an award winning community kitchen in Harrow appears uncertain after the council revealed it ‘can’t commit’ to funding it beyond next month. Harrow Council relies on government grants to support the kitchen but there has not yet been any guarantee whether that will continue.

The London Community Kitchen in Harrow takes up to 50 tonnes of surplus food a week, from major supermarkets, restaurants and wholesalers, to support vulnerable residents across the capital. Following the ethos of ‘zero waste, zero hunger’, the kitchen helped feed around 14,000 people a week throughout the pandemic and cost-of-living crisis.

It has recently relied on funding from central and local government to support residents, through the Household Support Fund (HSF) – first introduced in 2021 to help them pay their way through winter as prices soared. However, so far it has not been revealed whether the scheme will be extended beyond March 31, meaning it is uncertain how the kitchen will continue to provide the same level of support.

Winner of The Observer’s 2022 ‘outstanding achievement’ award, the London Community Kitchen was first formed in 2014 by Taz Khan – who himself was given an MBE for his services in the same year. King Charles and Queen Camilla even paid the kitchen a royal visit in 2022. But uncertainty over the government grant means an alternative source of funding may be required moving forwards.

Harrow Council leader, Cllr Paul Osborn, said: “We have been very clear with London Community Kitchen, that this funding was based on the HSF continuing to exist. We need to work with them and they need to develop, alongside the voluntary sector, a sustainable model that does not rely on that funding because it’s just not going to be there forever.”

He added: “The local authority doesn’t have that money, it’s a large hole in the budget if we try to commit to these things beyond that.”

The issue was raised at a recent Cabinet meeting (February 15) by Cllr Graham Henson, who called on the administration to continue to fund the scheme regardless of the HSF. He said: “There’s over 5,000 residents a week that receive food support locally from surplus food contributions, and some that are purchased using the support fund and some by the council.”

He added: “The partnership with the voluntary and community sector has shown to be effective in providing essential food assistance quickly and efficiently to any vulnerable household in the borough. […] It shows the key importance that Community Kitchen has shown to support the Harrow residents.”

Portfolio Holder for Finance and Human Resources, Cllr David Ashton, responded that, whilst the Community Kitchen is ‘high up on the list’ of what it would like to fund, he is ‘not going to commit without more information’.

He said: “I went to visit the London Community Kitchen and I was very impressed with what they do and I think it provides a very useful service. To the extent we can, we will support such activities but we are not in a position where we can happily commit where there is no budget available.”

London Community Kitchen were approached for comment but did not respond ahead of publication. Leader of Harrow Labour Group, Cllr David Perry, called the uncertainty ‘extremely concerning’ and said he was ‘surprised the council may turn their back on such a valuable community resource’.

Thousands of Harrow residents have also benefited from the HSF scheme, including through free school meals during holidays, food vouchers, and energy support grants. Until the government announces a decision to extend the funding, the future of this support is unknown. However, the council has committed to continue funding free school meals until the end of the Easter holiday, on April 12, even if the HSF is rolled back.

Cllr Ashton said: “So far, there has not been a clear indication whether the government will extend the Household Support Fund. Like other councils, Harrow awaits official confirmation regarding the future of the scheme. However, we cannot rule out at this point that some form of support may still remain available as the budget is yet to be announced.”

He added: “In the meantime, the council will continue to fund free school meals during holidays, up to and including Easter holidays. We are also actively working with the voluntary and community sector to create more sustainable models for some of the interventions that we have funded in the past. We continue to look at options that can support residents in the next financial year.”

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