This is humanitarian aid – we’re delivering thousands of food parcels to our most vulnerable residents
Meet Colin Parr. Absolutely thriving in his new role at Wolverhampton City Council. He’s heading up one of the largest operations in the Country to produce and distribute food parcels to up to 35,000 people.
The task: convert a leisure centre into a food distribution hub and deliver food parcels and other essential supplies. Establish and mobilise supply chains to get food in and distribution chains to get food out.
Colin’s usual day job is managing diverse business services: waste transformation and strategy, environmental health, trading standards, events, markets and climate change – a current project involves developing a huge solar farm on a former landfill in partnership with the local hospital trust – but none of this compares to the challenge he’s currently undertaking during the pandemic.
An early decision to bring back a retired team leader with experience of UN refugee camps and aid distribution in Africa and the Balkans was a sound demonstration of Colin’s good judgement. This is humanitarian aid and to make it work it needed managing like a military operation.
There’s a team of over 100 council workers in the Food Hub
Colin is at work by 7am in the food distribution hub and managing a diverse team of over 100 staff. These are council workers redeployed from their regular day jobs. From lifeguards to librarians and solicitors to school bus drivers, it’s a truly team effort. The Leader, Councillor Brookfield, a former nurse, has been doing a shift each week as a delivery driver. He’s been a real champion hence the bold Council commitment to establish the hub within days of the Government announcing to tens of thousands of the City’s most vulnerable residents that they were required to shield – he wanted the Council to help people directly.
The public response has been amazing
As Colin says, “We stepped in to fill the gap ahead of the Government scheme, but we also knew that that scheme would only assist a fraction of those that would be required to shield over the coming months. We’ve targeted those who can’t get out to shop, that don’t have access to family support, those that cannot secure online deliveries through the supermarkets – the shielded, those who are required to remain at home for at least twelve weeks due to their age and/or underlying health conditions – and written to them all, over 80,000 residents in total.
“There’s been a big take-up. We’re delivering over 3,500 parcels a week now. The public response has been amazing; the service has been incredibly well received. These are people who feel they’ve not always benefited from council services and are now getting food parcels directly from us, delivered to their doorsteps. Many of our service users are lonely and were facing social isolation before the pandemic, so a friendly face and chat really helps them too.”
One of the challenges in Wolverhampton, with such an ethnically and culturally diverse community, was deciding what to include in the parcels. The decision was made to fill the boxes with dry non-perishable goods, all vegetarian and ‘non-culturally specific’ so meat was excluded, as were major allergen groups.
Local businesses have been quick to offer help and support, in particular Marstons with stock, logistics help and equipment. Wolverhampton Racecourse have also made a significant cash contribution to buy the food parcels for local food banks and have offered storage and stock.
I normally manage service areas which are politically contentious, this is a refreshing change
Colin is clearly highly motivated by his current role, “This is without doubt the most popular, most rewarding piece of work I’ve ever been involved in. It’s been a real privilege to lead an incredible team of officers across this valuable service. I’ve served Wolverhampton for 10 years and always enjoyed my job, but the last few weeks have been the most rewarding of my career. The compliments we’ve had about the service are truly humbling, I’ve worked in services where people can be quick to complain so this is a refreshing change.”
He’s the most forward thinking person I’ve ever met
One of Colin’s former colleagues Michelle James, put Colin forward as a West Midlands everyday hero because, she says, “When others are still considering what to do, Colin is already managing the project. He’s the most forward thinking person I’ve ever worked with.”
An Aston Villa fan with a love of five-a-side, golf and tennis, to relax Colin walks in the Shropshire hills and enjoys family life with Jacob, 11, Ella 10 and Rhys 8. With three kids it’s hectic at home but work is even more so. And he wouldn’t have it any other way.