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East Midlands Chamber News

Leicestershire business plays key role in creating one of UK's first digital food banks at Christmas

One of the UK’s first digital food banks has offered hope to people in need over the winter – after the project was assembled by a Leicestershire company.

Meridian Digital Solutions, in Peckleton, worked with global locker manufacturer Kern to help the charity Surviving the Streets to create self-service lockers that provide 24/7 access to food, sleeping bags and even Christmas gifts during the festive period.

The first of the contactless lockers was installed in Hastings, Sussex, with the aim of keeping the charity’s staff and service users safe during the pandemic while also increasing the hours of operation without needing more volunteers.

Andy Viner, managing director of Meridian, said: “Surviving the Streets carries out amazing work and we love what it does for the community.

“Between ourselves and Kern, we have provided the solution for a free trial initially to prove the concept and then the hope is that these units are rolled out in towns on the Sussex coastline.

“The technology could easily be expanded to a national level to help with a problem that is common across our country, especially in these trying times.”

“Referrals for service users can come in at all times of the day or night so the increased access provides an incredible new service.

“Our main role has been bringing the project together, best practice advice and consultancy, and a heap of passion.”

How Meridian Digital Solutions helped create digital food bank

Meridian is an expert in self-service kiosks, smart lockers and digital signage, while during the pandemic it has mobilised facial recognition technology to develop personnel management systems that can be used to scan employees’ and visitors’ temperatures before allowing access to workplaces.

It was approached by Surviving the Streets, based in East Sussex, in September 2020 to discuss how automated smart lockers could be used to help improve the distribution of food bank items and equipment.

Meridian’s customer success manager Connie Masini Amena led the project and, working with Kern, helped the charity understand what was achievable from installation, hardware and how the software could be used.

The locker is set up to allow a service user to contact the charity via phone or email to receive a unique locker access code.

Items available include long-life, tinned and dried food packs for one to four people, lasting up to four days.

Connie Masini Amena, of Meridian Digital Solutions, with the digital food bank

Volunteers stock the locker and make the items accessible 24 hours a day, rather than having to wait for shops, offices and support centres to open.

James Robinson, co-founder of Surviving the Streets UK, said: “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.

“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 more than 100 individual locker visits.”