The owner of a charity shop, which gives away free food for the homeless and needy in the Sandown and Lake area, has criticised the heavy-handed way Isle of Wight Council officers approached her following a complaint from the public.
Dott Perrett, 67, has run Free Food Sandown in Lake high street since starting the community project in May 2019. But on Friday (Nov 20), at around 5pm, she was visited by a council official following a complaint by a member of the public.
Dott, who previously did voluntary work for Aspire, Ryde, said: “Our shelf outside the shop was practically empty because all the food had gone.
Inside we sell clothes and soft toys for £1 because we help all sorts of people – everything we take goes back into buying food.
“An official turned up and said a member of the public had complained to Lake Parish Council because other charity shops had been forced to close during the lockdown but we were still open. He said there wasn’t much food on display and we were
supposed to be primarily a food shop.
“I explained there was hardly any food there because it had all been taken throughout the day when we restock the shelf five or six times.
I showed him the store at the back where we had parcels of food ready to be delivered along with our other stock.
“He suggested other ways of operating and asked me why we couldn’t have it all on our shelf at the same time. But then greedy people would come along with two or three bags and take it all away at once.
Then he said why couldn’t we have a barrier at the shop and let people ask for their food. But people don’t want to be seen begging. They just want to pick up a few bits and go home.
“Now I have been told I have to question people and ask them why they want to enter the shop. They have to be ‘in need’ of something, whether that is advice or clothes.
Most people take it on the chin, but others just walk away – and they are lost customers who might contribute a couple of pounds which would be spent on food supplies.
“It seems that I am being singled out for ‘pretending’ I’m giving away food to be able to sell the clothes and soft toys, which is ridiculous. Other big chain stores are open, so why pick on a small independent charity like mine?”
The charity serves and delivers to around 500 people a week and, through the IW Council, works with Help Through Crisis to identify people who may need more than just food to meet their needs. Lake Parish Council also gave them £500 towards an awning to protect the food outside. They are supported by local businesses – the Co-Op and Waitrose – as well as receiving donations from the public.
Dott, who is helped by 12 volunteers, added: “It’s not just about the free food; we are helping people who are shielding, who have been in a broken relationship and
thrown on the street, people who have come out of hospital and people who are unable to get out of their homes. Some of them are destitute and in turmoil. We also deliver to local housing associations and care homes and we have a tie-in with
Lesley’s Nutshell in Ventnor.
“It all seemed so unnecessary. The council should know what we are doing here.”
An Isle of Wight Council spokesman said: “The council strongly refutes any suggestion that it is forcing Free Food in Sandown to close or placing pressure on it to do so. As a council, we have adopted the same approach as taken by the police in helping people to understand the lockdown rules: engage, explain, encourage and only then enforce.
“We have sought to offer guidance and support to shops and businesses on how best they can ensure they are ‘Covid-safe’ to stop the spread of this devastating virus, protect the NHS and ultimately save lives.
“Indeed, the purpose of our officer’s visit on Friday was to advise on how the charity could continue to fulfil its important role distributing food, clothing and other items
in-line with the current national restrictions and in a way that best protects the very people it is helping to support. We are disappointed our advice was not taken in the spirit it was intended and will be contacting Free Food in Sandown to hopefully resolve any misunderstanding.
“We would once again wish to place on record our heartfelt gratitude to all our foodbanks, community groups and charities for their tireless efforts in helping to ensure no one who needs food goes without during these extremely difficult times.”