‘There are a lot of frightened people’: Rhyl dreads return of Covid-19 | UK news

At first, Tom’s two young sons saw setting up home in a large metal box as an adventure. Forced to leave their home in the north of England because of a family breakdown, the three had loaded their possessions into a van and headed to north Wales, Tom’s place of birth.

They could find nowhere to stay so Tom (not his real name) put their few bits of furniture into a storage container in a yard in Denbighshire. And then, seeing no other option, moved himself and his two sons, both under 12, into it. “I found a container to put the furniture in while I tried to find somewhere for me and the boys,” he said.

But it was the height of the Covid outbreak and Tom could find no temporary accommodation. “I had no option but to sleep in the container with the boys. They thought we were camping so were quite happy to begin with.

Nick Edmunds, 38, collecting his food parcel from the food bank at the Bedford Street community hub in Rhyl on the north Wales coast.

Nick Edmunds, 38, collects his food parcel from the food bank at the Bedford Street community hub in Rhyl on the north Wales coast. Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

“The first couple of days were great but it soon got boring. There was no power supply so couldn’t use a lamp or warm it. Luckily we had lots of bedding so kept quite warm.”

Of course, they weren’t supposed to be living there and had to work hard to stay hidden away. “The boys hated having to be quiet in case we got found out. We stayed in the container for seven weeks. I never thought I would ever be in a position where I couldn’t provide for my family. Or that I would be sleeping rough in a cold storage container with my kids.”

Rhyl West 1 and 2 are the most deprived ‘small areas’ in Wales

Tom’s experience may be extreme but ask around the food banks in Denbighshire and there are plenty of heartbreaking stories. It was tough before. Covid-19 has made it even more difficult for many.

The Good News Mission in the seaside town of Rhyl is running a scheme called Foodshare. The idea is that it collects donated food, including items past their “best-by” date, and charges people £1.50 for £5-worth of food, £2.50 for £10-worth and so on.

Natasha Angell runs the food-share scheme at the Good News Mission in Rhyl

Natasha Angell runs the food-share scheme at the Good News Mission in Rhyl. Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

Natasha Angell, who is helping run the project, said before coronavirus it helped 25 families a week. Now they are up to 150. “Families who have always worked are here needing help,” she said. “It’s been a nightmare. People are sometimes having to choose whether to have food or turn the lights on.”

Before the Covid-19 crisis, the food bank run from the Foryd community centre in Rhyl could comfortably store its supplies in a corner of its cafe. Such is the increased demand now that the food bank store has spread out and fills the main body of the former presbyterian church that the community centre is housed in.

Racks are jammed with a dizzying array of tins, bottles and boxes ready to be packed and handed out. “We’ve got more pasta than Italy at the moment,” joked the project manager, Fiona Davies, grimly.

At the start of the year, the food bank was providing around 50 parcels a week. Now it is more like 130. One section, labelled “limited cooking facilities only”, is stacked with Pot Noodle and Cup a Soups aimed at the scores of homeless people living in hotel rooms who have no choice but to keep “cooking” basic. The food bank provides paper plates, cups and tin openers.

Davies is deeply worried the situation will worsen over winter especially if there is a significant second Covid spike. “We’ve had a huge increase in people using the food bank,” she said. “We’re working with people of all ages but especially lots of young people and families.”

Unemployment has soared in Rhyl since the start of the coronavirus lockdown.

In January, one food bank in Rhyl was providing about 50 food parcels a week. Now it is more like 130. Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

She added: “As people come off furlough we expect many more people to come here. One of the problems in Rhyl is that so many jobs are connected to tourism. Lockdown means we’re effectively facing the equivalent of three winters in a row. There are a lot of frightened people out there.”

Nick Edmunds, 38, was being handed his share of supplies. His face lit up as he looked through the bags of groceries and toiletries. Bright and articulate, he has in the past worked in a bank, supermarket, fast-food restaurant and as a piano mover.

Ill-health and bad luck has left him unemployed. He is desperate to get back to work but not optimistic. “I think I’m a good worker. I find it easy to get on with people. But it’s not easy. Before coronavirus it felt difficult to get work. Now it seems just about impossible. When I used to work in the bank I didn’t have a clue that places like this even existed,” he said.

Edmunds is on universal credit but once he has paid his rent and utility bills he still does not have quite enough to eat. “I don’t know what I’d do if I couldn’t come here,” he said.

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