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Prisoners from Sheppey's Standford Hill help distribute food at FareShare Kent in Ashford

A food distribution charity has enlisted the help of inmates from a Kent prison as it continues with its efforts to tackle food poverty.

Ashford based FareShare Kent runs the 'working out' scheme in conjunction with the Ministry of Justice, and has category D prisoners from HMP Standford Hill on the Isle of Sheppey working five days a week in the warehouse.

They arrive at 8am and help sort and distribute food donated by supermarkets and other organisations.

Leanne Crust is FareShare Kent's warehouse manager

John (not his real name) was sent to prison 16 years ago. He has been helping with the busy administration team for the past five weeks and was not aware of the scale of food poverty in the county.

The 39-year-old said: "It’s given me an opportunity to get back into the workplace and actually deal with customers, staff, members of the public, and get an idea of what you do and actually why you do what you do.

"I was quite surprised at the increase of things like FareShare, I was unaware of it until I was working here."

The team of 15 are a crucial part of an organisation that provided 314 tonnes of food to 157 charities across Kent in 2018. Some of the charities receiving the food are women’s refuges, homeless hostels, school breakfast clubs and hospices.

There are 15 prisoners working full time at the warehouse (13451229)
There are 15 prisoners working full time at the warehouse (13451229)

Paul Underdown, operations manager at FareShare Kent, said: "Their contribution to what we achieve each week has been a major factor in allowing us to grow in the way we have over the last year.

"People say ‘do you let them use knives?’ Of course we do! ‘Are the knives blunt though before they use them?’ That’s just antiquated, it’s like rolling back to Victorian times."

Volunteers also help out at the warehouse, but Leanne Crust, FareShare Kent’s warehouse manager, does not think the company could run to the level it does without the team from Standford Hill: "Yes we have a really good volunteer base, we have a lot of people that help us out of their free will which is fantastic.

"But we wouldn’t get the same number of people. I don’t think we would have 15 people willing to put in a full time shift every week, to be able to ship as much tonnage of food as we do."

Ian Townsend-Blazier is FareShare's funding manager

A spokesperson from the Ministry of Justice, said: “This scheme has a positive impact for both the community and prisoners, as well as teaching them tangible skills including teamwork which can help them get a job on release."

FareShare Kent opened their new distribution warehouse in May 2019, which they hope will provide an additional 480,000 meals every year to people across the county.

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