"We are not just a meal service - we are so much more than that"
Meals on Wheels not only delivers nutritious hot food to hundreds of Suffolk's older and more vulnerable residents - it plays a crucial role in fighting loneliness and isolation.
Suffolk almost lost its Meals on Wheels service last year after a cut in national funding forced the Royal Voluntary Service to back out after 10 years at the helm.
However, it was saved after Suffolk charity Aspect Living Foundation stepped in to run the service from its base in Sproughton.
Driver Simon Cockayne, who joined the team following a career working in insurance, said the service is much more than just delivering hot meals.
“There are a lot of smaller villages in Suffolk and its easy for people to become isolated,” he said.
“If there’s no local shop or café nearby it can be very difficult for some people.
“Loneliness is a major issue with the elderly.
“At least with us coming around we can stop and have a chat.
“At least they see someone over the course of the day.
“Not all these people have close family or carers.
“Some people don’t necessarily need a carer so can go without seeing someone all day – it’s so sad, it really is.
“I just think if you can get a smile or even a laugh out of them it makes a big difference.
“If you can show an interest and make them feel important and valued it means a whole lot to them.”
The cooking team are in the kitchen from 8am every day, preparing the frozen meals and packing them in polystyrene boxes ready for the drivers to make their rounds.
The delivery team do 18 rounds every day throughout the county, transporting the hot food to more than 300 residents in some of the most rural areas of Suffolk.
The service also provides specialist meals for those with dietary requirements, including vegetarian alternatives, food for diabetics, gluten free meals or in some cases softer pureed food for those who find swallowing difficult.
“The meals must be delivered no earlier than 11.30am and no later than 2pm,” said Simon.
“We have two and a half hours to make all the deliveries – we have become a well-oiled machine
“People are depending on us to bring them their dinners so we need to work effectively and efficiently.
“We’ve been doing it for a while now so it works very smoothly.”
Simon said he sees the service as part of the wider care community, an extra pair of eyes to make sure those they help are in good health.
He said: “The other important point to the job is to check to see whether people are ok.
“Your health can deteriorate quite rapidly when you are older so we keep an eye on them.
“It’s about just keeping in touch with them to see how they are.
“If you are on a round on a regular basis you know the status quo. If they look if they are deteriorating the driver will make note and the office staff will notify next of kin.
“We are not medical experts but as we see our customers so often we can tell when people are not themselves.
“We are not carers but we are all part of the care community, part of a wider care package.
“I absolutely love the job.
“I think it’s a job that gets into your blood.”
One of Simon’s deliveries was Audrey Robinson.
Mrs Robinson, who is her 90s, finds it difficult to prepare food for herself after her sight deteriorated.
She said she loves seeing Simon and letting him know what she’s been up to.
“I think it’s wonderful because I can’t see now how to cook,” she said. “What would I do if you (Simon) didn’t come with Meal on Wheels?”
Meals on Wheels is paid for through its customers, although it is subsidised by the charity’s fundraising to reduce the costs to those who need it.
Tess Aristodemou, chief executive of Aspect Living Foundation, said they are looking for more people to use the service so they can increase the number of people they help.
“We are not just a meal service, we are so much more than that,” she said.
“We are there to support the families and to support the people.
“We just need to get the word out there about what we do.
“We want to support as many people as we can.”
To find out more about the service call Aspect Living Foundation on 01473 749927 or visit www.aspectliving.org.uk