A volunteer run community hub helping to tackle food poverty has had its base repossessed without notice.
Volunteers at The Shop in the Victory Centre in Nelson, which houses the In-Situ café, were unable to access stock after the locks were changed on the building last Friday.
Gill Watson, an In-Situ board member, also runs a wing of the Pendle Helping Hands charity from The Shop where those most in need of food can pick up bread and enjoy a pay as you feel hot soup, all of which is waste food from Lidl.
Pendle Leisure Trust, which is the tenant, had an agreed lease until the end of December with the landlord GPO Properties Ltd, and paid its November rent. However, GPO wanted the Trust to sign a new lease by last week, bosses say, and the deadline passed without a signature. They are now considering legal action in response to GPO’s actions.
The Shop was run by Pendle Leisure Trust as part of the Mary Portas Pilot but when the funding for staffing ran out, there was still enough remaining to pay up until the end of 2016.
Protestors gathered outside The Shop on Monday morning to voice their anger at GPO and the Leisure Trust negotiated a two hour entry period with the landlord on Tuesday morning when helpers frantically worked to remove stock in the 120 minute time frame.
Gill believes it will have a profound effect on those desperate for food. She said: “It’s come at a really bad time. It’s all a big mess.
“We have been collecting all sorts of things from clothes to furniture for the Syrian refugee families and people have been going in and sorting through it all.
“We were meant to be hosting a meal at The Shop for them there on Saturday but we had to hold that at Brierfield Library instead and I did the cooking at home.
“I have also just agreed to take on the waste food from Colne and Nelson as well as the Burnley branch of Lidl because there is so much demand for stuff.
“We’re not a foodbank, we’re anti-foodbank because I don’t think the referral system works. We just leave the food out for people to take, We don’t need to know their situation. It’s not easy to get a referral and a lot of people are put off, they might be scared of the threat of social services finding out or may be in work and not able to get one.
“The people of Nelson were brilliant standing in the rain protesting on Monday. I said I couldn’t ask them to come back on Tuesday but they were all there again. I think what this has showed is we have a fantastic community. The support has been amazing.”
Pendle Leisure Trust’s Chief Executive, Alison Goode, expressed her shock and disappoint at the repossession and said December’s payment would have been made when it was due.
She said: “The rent and service charge is paid up to the end of November. The Trust has never been in arrears at any time.
“The lease on The Shop ends in December, but the new landlord wanted us to sign a new lease, which I only received at the beginning of November.
“Our main priority was to gain access so the community groups could get their possessions back. This happened on Tuesday.
“Our legal advisors have now indicated that our decision not to sign the new short term lease was the right decision. The landlord has acted illegally and we are now taking legal advice.”
People were collecting food from outside under a gazebo on Monday and can still collect food from Pendle Helping Hands from the hut in Barrowford and adjacent to the Salvation Army café in Nelson.
GPO Properties Ltd had not responded to Leader Times Newspapers by the time we went to press.