A charity initiative, designed to provide emergency food during the Coronavirus crisis, has extended its reach across South Durham, thanks to a growing network of community support.

For more than three months, The Auckland Project: Closed Doors, Open Hearts initiative has been providing frozen meals to help the Bishop Auckland, Shildon and Coundon communities through the immediate challenges caused by COVID-19.

Now, thanks to the support of more than a dozen partner organisations, the service has expanded to eligible residents in West Auckland, Trimdon (including Trimdon Village, Trimdon Grange and Trimdon Station), Witton-le-Wear and some areas of Crook.

Led by the initiative’s founding partners – The Auckland Project, South Durham Enterprise Agency and Health Express – a network of 10 community hubs has been established to reach these extended areas, with more than 15,000 meals delivered across the region so far.

Many of the hubs are volunteer led, with over 60 people donating their time to take calls, pack meals and make deliveries to people who would otherwise be unable to access adequate food during the Coronavirus crisis, including those who are self-isolating or facing financial challenges.

The network includes, Woodhouse Close Community Centre, The Miner’s Arms public house (Coundon), Trimdon Grange Community Centre, The Well (West Auckland), The Victoria Inn public house (Witton-le-Wear), Bishop Auckland College, Little Chefs Big Chefs CIC, Shildon Alive, Woodhouse Close Children’s Centre and The Angel Trust

Liz Fisher, Director of Engagement and Curatorial at The Auckland Project, said: “People’s lives have been turned upside down over the past few months, but with the generous support of our funders, community partners and so many people who have given their time and effort freely, we are able to make a real difference to those affected.

While we’re not able to predict yet what the long-term impact of this crisis will be, we know that our best chance of moving forward is by doing so together.”

Funding for The Auckland Project: Closed Doors Open Hearts initiative been received from County Durham Community Foundation, with additional support from elected members and the Bishop Auckland and Shildon Area Action Partnership.

Public donations have also been received to help purchase ingredients for the frozen meals, while some of the Walled Garden at Auckland Castle, which forms part of The Auckland Project visitor destination, has been given over to growing produce, such as leeks and potatoes that can be harvested for the initiative.

Anyone seeking support during the Coronavirus crisis is advised to speak to Durham County Council’s COVID-19 support team, who can make a referral to The Auckland Project: Closed Doors Open Hearts initiative or other appropriate services as necessary.

They can be reached via http://www.durham.gov.uk/covid19help or on 03000 260260.  Telephone lines are open 9.00am until 5.00pm weekdays and 10.00am until to 3.00pm on weekends.

Further information about The Auckland Project: Closed Doors Open Hearts, including details about the community hubs and how to contact them, can be found at www.aucklandproject.org/community/closed-doors-open-hearts/