Bentswood Community Larder: Haywards Heath resident gets letter of thanks from Lord-Lieutenant of West Sussex

A Haywards Heath resident has received a letter of thanks from Mrs Susan Pyper, HM Lord-Lieutenant of West Sussex, for her work with Bentswood Hub during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Wednesday, 14th July 2021, 5:02 pm

Anna Sharkey, 42, of Quakers Lane, got the letter in recognition of her success running The Bentswood Community Larder, which was set up in December last year.

The project, based at Bentswood Hub on America Lane, is the brainchild of Anna, who works for Sussex Clubs for Young People, and councillor Rachel Cromie (Haywards Heath – Bentswood).

It offers free food for anybody in the community with ‘completely unrestricted access’, said Anna, who has lived in Haywards Heath for ten years.

Anna Sharkey and councillor Rachel Cromie with the letter from Mrs Susan Pyper. Picture: Steve Robards.

“They don’t have to be on benefits, they don’t have to have a referral, they can just come and get food,” she said.

Anna said the larder only ran for two days a week when it began but quickly switched to seven days as demand for the service grew.

It received referrals from the Haywards Heath Foodbank, as well as the town council and Mid Sussex District Council, said Anna, either for people outside the catchment area or for those who needed food on a day when the foodbank was closed.

“Family support workers brought people down to get food and the local housing officer would bring people down too,” she added.

Anna Sharkey with representatives from Cook and the Rotary Club.

The number of volunteers grew rapidly as well, said Anna, adding that the larder was not just about nutrition but about emotional support as well, especially when everywhere else was closed over winter.

“People just needed somebody to chat to,” she said.

“A lot of older people were taking their daily walks to come and see us.”

Anna said local supermarkets got involved in the project and asked the team to collect food from them in the evening.

Anna Sharkey received a letter from Mrs Susan Pyper, HM Lord-Lieutenant of West Sussex.

REPOWER Balcombe paid for a fridge and a freezer, she said, and Clarion Futures also purchased a freezer for them.

In fact, Anna said, the Bentswood Hub is a collaboration between Sussex Clubs for Young People, Clarion Futures and Bentswood Community Partnership.

Clarion Futures pay the lease on the building and Sussex Clubs manage it, she said, while Bentswood Community Partnership is a long-running charity that helps improve the lives of people in the community.

Anna said she was excited to receive the letter from Her Majesty The Queen’s personal representative in West Sussex.

In the letter Mrs Susan Pyper said: “I am aware that you and your colleagues at the Bentswood Hub have gone to great lengths to help others, and you have made a real difference in these difficult times.”

“If there is one good thing that will emerge from this pandemic, I am sure that it will be that selfless human spirit of putting other people first,” she added.

Anna said she kept the letter a secret from her volunteers for two weeks until she could host a celebratory barbecue on July 4, National Thank You Day.

“I wanted to copy the letter and give each of the volunteers their own copy because it acknowledges everybody’s work,” said Anna.

“It recognises that in this time, when many people are struggling, they were there and they helped a lot of people, and they continue to help people.”

Anna, who has been involved in local community work for years, is the Bentswood Hub development officer and started the role in November last year.

She said her job was to develop the Bentswood Hub into a building for the benefit of the community and that the larder was a way to do this while Covid restrictions did not allow normal activities to take place inside.

However, now that the UK is coming out of the pandemic, Anna said the club has started running other programmes as well.

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“Everything that happens at the Bentswood Hub, a lot of its success, is due to the buy-in from the community,” said Anna.

“It’s been a real community effort getting it off the ground and making it what it is today.”