West Berkshire Council


See what's been happening in Hermitage

Hermitage Food Exchange provides vital support to local residents in need



2020 - Hermitage volunteers
2020 - Hermitage volunteers
The Hermitage Support Group is a dedicated team of volunteers (130+) set up by Andy Murray, Jon Turner and Carolyn Purchase to help the community manage the challenge of Covid-19. The Support Group has been assisting with many tasks including shopping, prescriptions collection, a friendly chat and making face coverings. In addition, a number of the volunteers carried out fundraising activities and have set up a bustling Food Exchange to support those in need.

Carolyn Purchase is a member of the Hermitage Parish Council and Jon Turner is a commissioned officer in the RAF. Andy Murray is a governor at the village primary school and also a serving warrant officer in the British Army.

We are pleased to share this interview with Andy Murray about the Hermitage Food Exchange's wonderful support to the community since the onset of Covid-19.



Andy, how did the idea for setting up the Hermitage Food Exchange come about?

Forming the Hermitage Food Exchange was a natural progression from setting up the volunteer group (Hermitage Support Group) and raising monetary donations for a Covid hardship fund. The Hermitage Support Group thought it would be valuable to set up a food bank to support local residents in need, including the vulnerable, people isolating at home, and those who lost their jobs or went into long-term furlough.

The Exchange provides a non means tested service and people can contact us directly if they have a need for food for a period of time.


How did you start up the Food Exchange?

We opened the Food Exchange in June, starting with local donations of food and household essentials that could be assembled into parcels. We also used a contribution from the hardship fund to purchase fresh items. In addition, the Spotlight UK charity gave us an initial stock to us to help us get going and is also kindly still delivering bulk items to us.


Please can you describe for our readers how the Food Exchange operations work?

Members of the community can drop off donated goods or supplies for the Food Exchange every Wednesday afternoon at our base in the Hermitage Village Hall. We receive local donations from residents in Hermitage, Compton, Streatley, Goring and Hampstead Norreys.

The Food Exchange team has 15 volunteers on a rota, and 4 or 5 volunteers come in each week on Wednesdays. They unpack all the food items donated the previous week and put them into stock for a week as a quarantine measure.

Next the volunteers proceed with creating food parcels from the stock ready to be used. They add in fresh ingredients and frozen meats paid for by the hardship fund so that families have the flexibility of making meals they like. Fisher of Newbury has also been providing us fresh fruit and vegetables from their stock of high quality items close to sell by date, which has been highly appreciated. In addition we were delighted to receive an enormous supply of free range eggs from Beechwood Eggs.

One of the volunteers delivers food parcels to local recipients. A different set of volunteers from neighbouring villages come and collect parcels for redistribution in their respective localities. They also drop off food donations from their villages at the Hermitage Food Exchange.

Supported by grants from local businesses including SSE and Newbury Building Society, we've additionally been able to arrange for pre-made ready meals for vulnerable and elderly people in isolation, then frontline workers. These meals have been created by local caterer Jane Staunton, whose cottage pie is a particular favourite!


What items do you need in general?

Any tinned food (except baked beans as we have plenty!) or non-perishable items such as pasta, rice or other standard larder fare. Gluten-free and allergy-friendly items are always welcomed, as are household cleaning supplies. Coming into holidays such as Dilwali and Christmas, tinned biscuits, chocolates and treats for the kids would be also be useful to help families celebrate.


What advice would you give to a group wanting to set up a food exchange for their area?

At the outset, find a venue willing to provide you space - we have been very lucky to be able to use the Hermitage Village Hall.

You need to decide how you will allocate your stock so that there is enough to go round. In our case, we're there to provide a helping hand with meals, rather than a full week's worth of food as our supplies wouldn't stretch that far. Our parcels include staple items for breakfast, lunch and dinner that can be used to make a few meals throughout the week. It's nice to provide some variety, including some treats to boost morale.

It's also helpful to have someone manage the volunteer rota so that people can plan their time accordingly and keep track of attendees for test and trace purposes. Our team uses What's App which is a helpful means of communications to keep schedules flexible if people need to change their shift.


Anything else you'd like to share?

My co-leaders Jon, Carolyn and I would like to give huge thank you to everyone who has provided all their amazing support in one way or another for the Hermitage Food Exchange. We couldn't have done this without the ongoing generosity of people from all walks of life and local businesses from the village and surrounding area. There are many, many people who have provided monetary and/or food donations as well as helpful support throughout the lockdown and still to this day.

Thank you as well to Spotlight UK for their immense assistance. We'd also like to thank the Hermitage Village Committee who provide us with incredible support and the ongoing use of their hall.

Also we'd like to convey our enormous thank you and appreciation to all the wonderful volunteers who have worked very hard at the Food Exchange to organise stocks as well as pack up and/or deliver the food parcels. Their superhero efforts have been tremendous and heart-warming!




See what else the Hermitage Support Group was up to during the lockdown period 

in their pdf icon Hermitage Support Group Newsletter [535kb]