A Newcastle food bank has thanked its “amazing” supporters after fundraising to buy a new van that will not be charged under the city’s Clean Air Zone (CAZ).
Staff at the Kenton Food Bank were outraged last year after being hit with dozens of fines for using their 64-plate diesel Mercedes van to collect donations from the city centre.
The vehicle was not compliant with the anti-pollution zone’s emissions requirements and the food bank, wrongly believing at the time that it would have been eligible to have its tolls waived, racked up penalty charge bills that could have totalled more than £4,000.
As the charity and local councillors complained that it and other non-profit groups had “fallen through the cracks” of the CAZ system, Newcastle City Council agreed to cancel the late payment penalties and let the food bank pay only the £12.50 value of the van toll for each of its 32 fines.
But the Kirkwood Drive-based organisation, which supports more than 600 households in the Kenton area, is now celebrating after buying a new vehicle that will be completely exempt from the CAZ charges.
The 2019 Mercedes Sprinter has been funded via a £17,500 donation from the Gosforth-based LGA Foundation, a £4,500 vehicle upgrade grant from the city council, and £900 donated by local residents through online crowdfunding.
The switch has meant that the food bank can now make its regular food collections from the Magic Hat Cafe without fear of incurring financial penalties – and is now doing so three times a week rather than only once.
Food bank manager Loree Moran-Wilson said: “This is the perfect solution for us. We won’t get fined when we go to do our collections in Newcastle city centre now. It is a win-win situation for everyone.”
She added: “It is such a relief. Over Christmas, we had to seek out people who could go and do collections for us so that we could still get our food supplies. If you let people down like that then they won’t come back and donate again.
“But the community here has been so wonderful to us, people donating to help – whether it was £5 or £50. The fact that they cared and wanted to help as much as they could was great. To raise £900 at Christmas time is amazing, it shows what a tight-knit community we have here.”
Local businessman Brian Dickinson, who runs construction firm WDL and is a regular donator to the food bank, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service on Thursday that he was relieved that “the bureaucracy has been sorted” and that the saga had reached a “happy end”.
Kenton Labour councillor Stephen Lambert added: ”We’re delighted that Kenton Food Bank has got a new van which will enable it to pick up and bring back large food parcels from the city centre. They are doing a fantastic job in providing weekly food parcels to hundreds of local residents, not just in Kenton but across the NE3 and NE5 districts, helping to alleviate hardship and disadvantage.”
Liberal Democrat councillor Peter Lovatt, who had previously volunteered himself to collect donations for the charity from inside the CAZ, told a council meeting last week that resolving the situation had been a “difficult process” but he was “very pleased” that the foodbank had eventually been able to get a new van.
Loree added: “I think we showed through this that the system was designed more for businesses than non-profit and community groups, and I hope that they will change things.
“But luckily with the support of our local councillors, we have been able to get this resolved for us.”
The CAZ passed its one-year anniversary this week and in the last 12 months has generated more than £2m from tolls and fines.
A spokesperson for Newcastle and Gateshead Clean Air Zone said: “We are pleased to confirm that a grant has been paid out to Kenton Foodbank to help them upgrade their vehicle. The funding was paid just over two months after we received the application, once all correct information had been provided.”