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Hot meals served up by Newmarket Day Centre with a generous helping of hope




Newmarket Day Centre has been serving the community for nearly 40 years but never throughout those four decades has its role supporting the town’s senior citizens been more crucial.

Caring as it does for some of the town’s most vulnerable residents, the Fred Archer Way centre has found itself in the eye of the coronavirus storm and at the heart of the town’s effort to protect them and there is no doubt that its staff and its army of volunteers are stepping up to the plate.

When the centre first opened its doors on April 21,1981, pensioners queued to get in to what promised to be a haven for senior citizens, offering comfort and companionship for the lonely, and a host of facilities including baths and showers some then lacked in their own homes.

Newmarket Day Centre staff and volunteers prepare meals, for delivery to local residents. Picture by Mark Westley. (32914266)
Newmarket Day Centre staff and volunteers prepare meals, for delivery to local residents. Picture by Mark Westley. (32914266)

They weren’t disappointed and ever since the centre has been a lifeline to countless pensioners for whom it has become a second home and in some cases a family.

The onset of the coronavirus forced the centre’s trustees to close its doors but they were determined to continue to care for their clients. The centre already ran a hot meals delivery service for clients who would not normally be able to make use of its restaurant but as a result of the current crisis the number requiring that service has risen from 16 a day to around 60.

Newmarket Day Centre staff and volunteers prepare meals, for delivery to local residents. Picture by Mark Westley. (32914071)
Newmarket Day Centre staff and volunteers prepare meals, for delivery to local residents. Picture by Mark Westley. (32914071)

The meals are prepared as usual by the centre’s dedicated kitchen staff ready for delivery by its regular volunteer drivers whose numbers have been swelled recently by residents stepping up to help.

Hannah Coker is the volunteer co-ordinator and on Friday as the clock ticked towards noon she was mustering her troops, and handing over boxes of plastic gloves, hand sanitiser and wipes together with some last minute instructions.

Newmarket Day Centre staff and volunteers prepare meals, for delivery to local residents. Picture by Mark Westley. (32914062)
Newmarket Day Centre staff and volunteers prepare meals, for delivery to local residents. Picture by Mark Westley. (32914062)

On the menu, fish and chips or lasagne and chips and sponge pudding and custard, and as a special treat that day every client got a gift bag of smiles containing sweet treats put together by one of the centre’s care staff, Laura Evans.

With dessert, lunch costs the clients £6.50, without £5.50 but they agree it’s a small price to pay for a tasty hot lunch and the smiling face and words of encouragement which come with it.

Newmarket Day Centre staff and volunteers prepare meals, for delivery to local residents. Picture by Mark Westley. (32914268)
Newmarket Day Centre staff and volunteers prepare meals, for delivery to local residents. Picture by Mark Westley. (32914268)

The centre’s general manager Elvis McMinn is doing her best to steer it through the crisis but said it was desperate for donations of either cash or non-perishable food.

“We have to raise all our running costs ourselves and the current closure means services and events from which we usually get an income have stopped so we really do need the community’s help,” she said.

Newmarket Day Centre staff and volunteers prepare meals, for delivery to local residents. Picture by Mark Westley. (32914267)
Newmarket Day Centre staff and volunteers prepare meals, for delivery to local residents. Picture by Mark Westley. (32914267)

Recent food donations have come from Waitrose and from devotees of local fitness guru and boot camp operator Jade Skillen and it is hoping some of the money earmarked by the town council to help in the crisis will come its way.

As for the volunteers, they just want to do what they can. “You’ve got your usuals today,” Hannah told 68-year-old Michael Jenkins, who is a regular driver helping out through the Voluntary Network and said he was ‘here whenever they want me’.

Helen Pimley has been a volunteer at the centre for six months and on Friday was delivering to Ron Smith, who was celebrating his 92nd birthday. “It’s so weird not being able to give him a hug,” said Helen. “He is so lovely and so thoughtful, all our clients are, and it really tugs at your heartstrings. They are all very special and they are all so grateful which makes all this so worthwhile.”