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WATCH: Huge food centre set up at Aldersley Leisure Village to feed 30k vulnerable people

By Jamie Brassington | Wolverhampton | Coronavirus | Published:

This huge leisure centre sports hall usually hosts exercise sessions, election counts and even the Grand Slam of Darts.

Council workers are busy setting up the food hub at Aldersley Leisure Centre in Wolverhampton

But now it has now become an emergency food centre sending out vital supplies to more than 33,000 vulnerable people during the coronavirus outbreak.

Wolverhampton Council will operate Aldersley Leisure Centre on a 24/7 basis where weekly food parcels will be distributed.

WATCH: How centre will help amid pandemic

Wolverhampton leisure centre's new role as emergency food centre amid coronavirus outbreak

A fleet of 33 vans and additional lorries are on standby while about 500 council staff have been drafted in to help.

Council bosses are hoping to open the make-shift distribution hub, in Claregate, Wolverhampton, by Tuesday next week.

Council leader Ian Brookfield said: "This is the biggest council operation I have ever seen while working in local government.

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The huge sports hall

"I think the job we are doing is fantastic. These are unprecedented times.

"We have changed the focus of what the council was doing a few weeks ago to come together and keep safe 33,000 of our citizens, working in partnership with the NHS."

Council leader Ian Brookfield at the food distribution hub

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It comes after the outbreak of Covid-19 which has spread across the world and forced Britain into lockdown.

So far, 31 people have now died after testing positive for Covid-19 in Wolverhampton.

The council has already identified vulnerable citizens who are suitable for the scheme. Letters have been sent out advising them about this.

The vulnerable people are classed as either being elderly or those with pre-existing health conditions.

The fleet of vans ready

Council bosses worked alongside the NHS and GP practices in identifying who would be suitable.

The hub is believed to be one of the first of its kind in the country. It has followed a Government request for councils to deliver food supplies to vulnerable residents.

It is understood the council is currently financing the distribution centre. But the Government has assured council bosses of financial support if needed.

Councillor Brookfield continued: "I have been on the phone to the Secretary of State [Robert Jenrick, secretary for Housing, Communities and Local Government] and I have taken him on his word.

Council officers setting up equipment at the distribution centre, observed by Ian Brookfield

"He said 'make sure you keep people safe and spend whatever you need to. We will sort you out'. He would much rather us overspend on provisions than underspend."

Wolverhampton Council has sourced and funded groceries to be used in the food parcels. However, the Government will also help out with supplies.

Items that residents can expect include: loaves of bread, tinned food, cereals and other long-life provisions.

The council is expecting to take delivery of food over the next few days ahead of the centre's planned opening next week.

Security is tight at the centre with a handful of marshals based at the entrance and others located around site.

Shelley Smith

Visitors are quickly scanned with an electronic device and asked if they have experienced any symptoms.

Once food items make it inside, they will be sorted in the leisure centre's huge 26,000 sq ft sports hall.

A large white marquee tent has also been set up on one of the site's car parks to aid with this.

At full capacity, the distribution centre will send out parcels for 33,000 people and employ up to 500 council staff, all while operating around the clock.

The hub is still taking shape. In the sports hall, rows of tables were being set up today and plenty of cleaning equipment was on show.

Vans are adorned with messages on back doors saying "Thank You NHS"

Some council workers were seen wearing white coveralls, face masks and gloves.

Among the task force is Shelley Smith, a communications manager who has worked for the council for 18 years.

She will be used as a designated delivery driver, showing the council's all-hands-on-deck approach.

She said: "Once up and running, I will be distributing parcels to customers and driving a van.

"It will be a big team working together. There will be a lot of people on site working together."

She continued: "This is the biggest operation I have seen at the council. I think it shows we are in unprecedented times."

As many council resources are being diverted to help tackle the Covid-19 outbreak, Councillor Brookfield added: "I apologise if streets don't get brushed.

"I apologise if grass verges don't get cut. I hope people realise what the council is doing."

Jamie Brassington

By Jamie Brassington
Senior Multi-Media Journalist - @JamieB_Star

Senior reporter at the Express & Star. Contact me at jamie.brassington@expressandstar.co.uk.

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