Donation bank closes after desperate families fight over free goods

By Robert Firth, Local Democracy Reporter

A donation bank has been forced to close after volunteers were threatened by desperate people fighting over free goods.

Lewisham Donation Hub, in Lewisham High Street, which provides everything from food and clothing to TVs, washing machines, sanitary products and bikes has shut indefinitely following a surge in abuse towards staff from people using the service.

Only the food bank remains open until further notice.

Volunteers at the centre said a small minority of people who visit the bank were ruining it for others.

In recent weeks its unpaid staff, many of whom are refugees, have been screamed at by people when they’ve run out of certain items.

Some people have been camping outside the hub hours before it opens and storming past barriers to grab free good, leaving the centre without enough items to give to others in need.

The service’s founder, Laurence Smith, said some people’s behaviour was unacceptable.

Mr Smith, 37, said: “When we say ‘next time can you come in the afternoon to give others a chance to get certain items,’ some people are not respecting that.

“They’re turning up at 8.30am when we’re not open until 10am. They start fighting with each other.

“If somebody does not get something they will suggest one of the volunteers is not serving them on the basis of all sorts.

“They get aggressive with us. We’re used to dealing with people with mental health issues but there’s a particular element of people who are greedy. Some people will barge in and they won’t respect queues.”

Mr Smith, who works 80 hours a week at the centre in Lewisham, said an increasing number of people were turning up at the hub having been directed there by big organisations, including Migrant Help – a charity appointed by the Home Office to provide advice to asylum seekers.

He said: “We get no Government funding but we are getting people saying they have been referred to us by Migrant Help and other big charities.

“We’ve got refugees coming from Manchester. They consider it more helpful to come here by bus than to get the small bits of support you get around Manchester.

“The problem we’re facing is that nowhere provides everything we do. A lot of places have closed down due to a lack of funding.”

Laurence founded the donation centre during the Covid-19 pandemic. When running at full capacity, it helps up to 300 people each day.

Kevin Burns, 53, who visits the centre several times a week, said it was there for people in need.

He said: “I use the hub for the things I need and the little luxuries. Even if you came late and had had a few cans, Laurence would answer and he would cook you a hot meal.

“If they have got it, they will give it. If they’re closing the abuse must be bad. They’re volunteers. They shouldn’t have to put up with that.”

Pictured top: Lewisham Donation Hub volunteers, from left, Shaysta Sahak, Laurence Smith and Ahmed Al Abdullah (Picture: Robert Firth)

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