A COUNTY councillor has responded to the fears of Meals on Wheels volunteers in Fordingbridge, who are being “made redundant” in favour of a private company.

Thirty WRVS volunteers, who have been delivering hot meals to the elderly for decades around the area, have been sent a letter to say they will not be required to do so after April 1.

Hampshire County Council is instead using Apetito to deliver the meals, saying it is an improvement in the service because deliveries will be made every day.

But volunteers say there is no way delivery drivers can offer the service they can, and Sara Locock, who has volunteered for 46 years, Jenny Hammond, (20 years) and Sally Gemmell, (39 years), all spoke of their disappointment in the decision to the Forest Journal.

Now councillor Felicity Hindson, executive member for adult social care, has responded to the story.

She said: “The need for Meals on Wheels has been increasing for many years in Hampshire, driven by our ageing population, many of whom want to stay in their own home.

“I know how important the Meals on Wheels service is, how much it can help older people to stay well and maintain their independence. This is why from April, Hampshire County Council is investing more than £7million to improve it.

“The meals will be available to all older people who want them, not just those who meet adult services eligibility criteria. Because the meals are going to be delivered 365 days a year, I just don’t think it is reasonable to expect unpaid volunteers to take responsibility for making daily deliveries come rain, snow, ice or flood.

“In response to recent concerns expressed in the press, I would like to reassure residents that the Apetito delivery drivers will be checking customers are well, every time they make a delivery. They are also trained to know exactly what steps to take should they encounter problems.

“A new Meals Support Service is also being launched in April provid ing older people with regular visits from volunteers around mealtimes. This service is being coordinated by Age Concern Hampshire and funded by district councils.

“These changes mean there will not be the same role for the many, highly valued volunteers who have delivered the meals for years. I appreciate there is great disappointment about this. However, there are still lots of opportunities to volunteer to support older residents.

“Hampshire County Council is investing more that £1.4 million in local voluntary organisations next year and we will continue to build on current services such as Good Neighbour and befriending services.

“Good volunteers are often hard to find so I would encourage you to keep on volunteering and get involved where you can.”

For details about volunteering opportunities contact Age Concern Hampshire on 01962 868545 or email: mail@ageconcernhampshire.org.uk.