East Sussex charity Surviving the Streets UK, has today launched a new ‘digital foodbank’ at its headquarters in Hastings, using self-service automated lockers to provide contactless access to food and other items 24hrs a day.
Members of the public or support centres in need of food, sleeping bags, tents or Christmas gifts for children, simply contact the charitable organisation via phone or email and receive a unique locker access code. Items available in the 24-locker unit will include long-life, tinned and dried food packs for 1-4 people which last up to four days.
Thought to be one of the UK’s first digital foodbanks, the lockers enable Surviving the Streets UK to operate a contactless service to keep staff and customers safe during the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic and increase the hours of operation but with less volunteers required. The charitable organisation has seen volunteer numbers drop due to people self-isolating or falling ill with Covid-19 but the lockers only need one staff member to keep them topped up.

Members of the public can obtain a locker code by phoning 0800 048 7740 or via the charity’s website https://survivingthestreets.uk

“Our digital foodbank will give a massive boost to how we operate, delivering a range of benefits at a time of year which traditionally puts many people under financial pressure, made worse this year by Coronavirus. People are struggling with the expense of Christmas, loss of jobs or having no income and need some help to get by – these are hard times for a lot of society,” said James Robinson, co-founder of Surviving the Streets UK and the brains behind the new locker initiative. “We expect calls for help to double or triple over the next few months and the new lockers will help fill gaps in how we support our local community. Minimum expectations over a weekend in December are for over 100 individual locker visits.”

Surviving the Streets UK sourced its Kern smart lockers through self-service kiosk experts Meridian Digital Solutions, who advised and helped the charity select the best locker for its needs. Kern is a global manufacturer of smart lockers and counts Madrid Metro, Lyon Airport, Lidl, City of Hamburg and Decathlon amongst its many customers.

“Providing contactless support, 24hrs a day, also means those who might normally avoid asking for help due to being proud or feeling embarrassed, can now receive food or support for children at a time which suits them, without having to queue at a traditional foodbank,” James continued. “This year, the lockers will also enable us to load some gifts into them during the run-up to Christmas Day, to help with the demand from some of the less fortunate families within our community.”

The lockers are currently on loan from Kern, who carried out some free software development to connect the charity’s 0800 helpline to the locker reservation system and also installed the lockers. Meridian Digital Solutions paid for the Surviving the Streets signage to be printed on the outside of the lockers.
“After looking at several different companies we chose Kern lockers, as the hardware and software were the most robust and easiest to use, coupled with the fantastic ongoing consultancy and support from Meridian,” explained James. “When we are contacted by someone asking for help, we use the online locker portal to assign a specific locker to that person and give them a 4-digit access code. The Kern locker software holds all the usage data securely and using simple analytics we will be able to examine usage trends and spot patterns in demand to help shape future services. Kern’s nationwide coverage and technical support network also gave us solid peace of mind.”

The trial scheme in Hastings is planned to last for 3 months to cover most of the winter but James has plans to launch more lockers if the trial is a success. The next location will hopefully be in Eastbourne, with other plans for lockers at train stations, academies and supermarkets to follow, all run by Surviving the Streets UK. Hot lockers for hot meals are also being considered to help expand the service.

“We’re hoping to fundraise and gain sponsorship to install more lockers in 2021 and make this scheme a blueprint for a similar scheme nationwide – this is hopefully just the beginning,” explained James.


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