Driving down the cost-of-living
Authors: Kim Lowes, parish councillor and community pantry lead and Sophie Taylor, clerk and responsible finance officer at Coxhoe Parish Council
The parish of Coxhoe and Quarrington Hill is not alone in feeling tested by rising costs. As a parish council, we do our utmost to respond to the needs of residents, including taking a proactive approach to difficult financial times.
Coxhoe and Area Community Pantry and Foodbank is a multi-faceted initiative tackling food waste and providing for those needing extra help and support. We recently celebrated the Pantry's second birthday, run by volunteers from Coxhoe Village Hall and opened in 2021 with funding from the AAP and local county councillors.
Operating as a “pay as you feel” Pantry, residents are encouraged to donate what they can for the wide variety of produce on offer. Along with our partners, including Co-op, FareShare, Sainsbury’s and Aldi, and with the help of donations from residents and community groups, we aim to stock the Pantry each week with a variety of foods and toiletries. Any surplus foods are redistributed to local community groups such as The Cornforth Partnership, Bowburn Youth School Holiday Lunch Programme and Durham Drug and Alcohol Service, and local school breakfast clubs. Coxhoe Primary School plays a valuable part in donation drives and dedicates each Harvest Festival Celebration every year to procuring long-shelf-life food stuff from local parents and families.
Hard-working and dedicated volunteers remain the backbone of our community, and this could not be more accurate regarding running the Pantry. Volunteers give time throughout the week to set up and run the sessions, organise rotas, liaise with partners and collect donations. Volunteers have also worked to grow the sessions from a food collection point into a social space to meet and chat with others. We are pleased to have introduced a ‘Warm Space’ running with the Pantry sessions. Visitors can enjoy refreshments, WIFI, and a heated area to socialise, rest and relax without worrying about their heating bill at home.
For the first time, councillors have secured a 0% parish Council Tax increase for residents of Coxhoe and Quarrington Hill in our efforts to honour our commitment to serving the community’s best interests. Recognising the difficulty many faces, this Council Tax freeze was not easy, but councillors worked hard to set a reasonable and flexible budget where possible. As a council, we have worked our budget for 2023/24, keeping the current cost of living crisis in mind. The clerk to the parish council, Claire Llewelyn, recently left us. Still, she secured strong relationships with trustworthy contractors at competitive rates before doing so, allowing us to continue delivering services to the highest standards.
Despite budget cuts to accommodate the 0% rise, councillors were keen to continue supporting community groups and have retained the small grants fund within the budget. This enables local charitable and not-for-profit bodies to apply to Coxhoe Parish Council for financial support, which they may need help securing elsewhere as financial belts tighten. We are proud to have recently supported local sporting teams and the allotment association with improvements funding.
Commitment to reducing the impact of financial crises on the residents within our parish remains at the heart of our decisions as a council, and we welcome the opportunity to share learning with other governing bodies mutually. Although we hope that the need to respond to fiscal pressure will reduce, we remain prepared to react promptly and continue to deliver community initiatives providing much-needed support.