A VOLUNTEER who has delivered meals on wheels for 46 years in Fordingbridge says she fears for her elderly customers after the county council signed up a company to deliver the food instead.

Sara Locock, a retired magistrate and deputy lord lieutenant of Hampshire, says about 30 volunteers delivering to |residents in the town and the surrounding villages have been sent a letter “making us redundant”.

Hampshire County Council has appointed Apetito, which has previously supplied the food, to also deliver the meals from April 1.

But Mrs Locock, 74, of Whitsbury, says she feels employed delivery drivers cannot offer the personal service she and other long-serving WRVS volunteers can.

She said: “We volunteer because we are concerned for elderly, housebound, lonely and disabled people. We often have to and want to do things for them – post letters, take prescriptions to the surgery, fetch things for them and generally care for their welfare.

“Will a paid delivery person drive down our narrow rural lanes, fetch and carry, chat to our clients? I think not.

“I’ve been brewing and stewing this for weeks and I have to speak out, they should not get away with this. It’s not just the 30 volunteers in this area, it’s all across Hampshire.

“I also can’t understand how it could be economical for a private company to carry out the deliveries.”

Hampshire County Council says its new service will offer improvements to clients, including deliveries 365 days a year, either direct to people’s doors or to a local lunch club. The new service will also cover the whole of the county.

It says it is setting up a separate Meals Support Service for older people to request weekly, fortnightly, or monthly visits from a volunteer around meal times.

A spokesman said: “These volunteers will provide the all important social contact and help older people keep in touch with local events and activities.”

Volunteer Jenny Hammond, 76, from Downton, who has delivered meals for 20 years, said: “Many of us have been doing this for years and it’s very sad.

“I agree totally with Sara – I just can’t see these drivers going to some of the outlandish places we go to and laying the fire, and doing the other things we do.

“In October I was awarded for my service to Meals on Wheels and received a certificate from Charles and Camilla, then a few weeks later I get a letter to say we’re not needed any more – it’s just ridiculous.”

Sally Gemmell, 73, from Hale, who has been delivering meals in the Fordingbridge area since 1985 and in other areas before that since 1973, also expressed her sadness.

She said: “We’re all just very disappointed – it’s such a pity.

“I think people will miss us, because we just got to know them all so well “They know we do everything we can for them”

Mrs Locock has written to New Forest West MP Desmond Swayne, and the chairman and leader of Hampshire County Council to protest.

A spokesman for the council added: “There will be a marketing campaign shortly to promote the new meals on wheels service, including a dedicated phone line and information leaflets.

“We will also be looking for more volunteers for the meals support service.”