THE Meals on Wheels service across the Midhurst and Petworth area could be heading for a volunteer crisis when drastic changes take place in the next few weeks, volunteers have warned.
The army of volunteers will no longer be needed to deliver hot meals and will be asked to take on different roles.
These include going into the homes to microwave ready meals and conduct ‘safe and well’ checks.
But angry volunteers say they will quit because they did not sign up to be ‘care workers’.
And they claim there has been little consultation.
The six kitchens which currently cook meals for customers across the south of West Sussex, including Petworth which provides meals for the Petworth, Midhurst and Pulborough area, are to close.
Instead ready meals supplied by The Compass group will be stored in Rustington and these will be delivered in specially adapted vans by paid drivers to homes as far afield as Selsey, Midhurst and Petworth, Bognor and Lancing.
The drivers will have facilities to deliver the meals hot or chilled to be put into peoples’ fridges at home.
One volunteer who preferred not to be named told the Observer: “I am gutted, I have been a volunteer for 16 years.
“The people who came up with this are living in cloud cuckoo land and I really can’t see how its going to work.
“The big problem is volunteers are being expected to be care workers. Instead of delivering a hot meal and then leaving we are expected to go in, put it in the microwave, plate it and serve it. We could be asked to do all sort of other things. The majority of people I have spoken to won’t be doing it.”
Liz Stone who delivers from Midhurst said like many volunteers she was unhappy with their new role: “I personally think there will be a volunteer crisis because of the changes.”
Volunteer Ann Harfield picks up meals brought to the Grange Leisure Centre for delivery to the Midhurst area.
“I can’t see much point in vans taking meals around and volunteers trailing after them, I really can’t see how its going to work and I agree we are not care workers - it isn’t what I signed up for.”
Fellow volunteer Pat Broadbent said: “I think it’s a ridiculous idea. They should leave things alone.”
Debbi Fair, Royal Voluntary Service head of operations for the South East said: “A consultation with affected staff has been running since August 6. We have also been holding regular meetings with volunteers to keep them up to date with changes and get their views.
“The new scheme will allow our volunteers to give the older people they visit a much enhanced experience of meals at home. The flexibility of the new service means volunteers will be able to spend more time with those who use the scheme, providing companionship and peace of mind that someone will be seeing them on a regular basis, to perform safe and well checks to ensure they stay happy and healthy in their own home.”
She said 350,000 meals were delivered annually in the county and in the southern part there were 250 volunteers.
“They are an integral part of the charity, and play an important role. This role won’t change in principle with the introduction of the new service; they will continue to perform safe and well checks to make sure the older people they visit are happy and well and provide a friendly face and companionship.”
“We will continue to meet volunteers to get their views and reassure them their role is hugely important and very much appreciated.”
A West Sussex County Council (WSCC) spokesman said a new contract had been drawn up after the expiry of the previous one and the Royal Voluntary Service had again been commissioned on behalf of the council.
It had not been a ‘cost-based decision’ and meals would continue to cost £4.10 a week, until at least next March.