‘THE Big Society is alive and well in West Oxfordshire’.

That is the message from former Prime Minister and Witney MP David Cameron, who is one of 35 volunteers in Chipping Norton doing their bit to ensure the region remains fed during the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Cameron, who was West Oxfordshire's MP between 2001 and 2016, said he got involved with the 'Chippy larder' as he ‘wanted to do something to help out’.

He is now just one of the team helping to deliver hundreds of parcels from the town leisure centre to places from Carterton to Kidlington every Friday.

Oxford Mail:

Mr Cameron, who has a family home in Dean near Chipping Norton, collects food parcels which include non-perishables and a bag of fruit and vegetables, and delivers them himself to various locations.

He told the Oxford Mail yesterday: “I’d been helping St Mary’s church and they told me about the Chippy larder.

“What’s amazing is that more volunteers are joining in – the Big Society is alive and well in West Oxfordshire.

“It’s been interesting walking around Chipping Norton and the streets where I used to canvas, and it’s been nice to reconnect with those communities.

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“The public response to coronavirus has been truly magnificent and people are protecting the NHS and saving lives, as the motto goes."

The former PM also said the government was doing 'a very good job in difficult circumstances' and added: "I’m willing them on."

Yesterday marked his fourth week helping the service, which he does accompanied by daughter Nancy who he said was ‘a very keen volunteer who’s disappointed not to be doing her GCSEs’.

Oxford Mail:

The Chipping Norton larder was the brainchild of town councillor Rizvana Poole.

She explained: “I was looking to establish a community larder for over six months.

“The location is great as everybody knows it and are comfortable here.

“Once this is over, the Chippy larder will go on, absolutely.

“My vision is for this to be a place where people can come and receive help.

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“So far, the work that’s been done is exceeding my expectations.

“It’s steadily grown and now we are at the point where we have people who look forward to getting their delivery on a Friday.”

The councillor has sat on the council for almost a year and said ‘there’s two polar opposites in Chipping Norton, and being a town councillor has exposed me to that’.

She added: “I wanted to do something and being a town councillor gives me the platform to make a difference – I want to help Chipping Norton.

“Chipping Norton leisure centre and Better have been a great support from the start and their staff contribute a key portion of our volunteers, basically we couldn’t have grown so fast without them.”

Oxford Mail:

Speaking about the involvement of the former Prime Minister, she said: “For me, he’s just another volunteer helping the community, he’s always willing to help in whatever way he can.”

The leisure centre is run by Better, on behalf of West Oxfordshire District Council.

John Busby, 33, is the partnership manager for Better in West Oxfordshire.

He said: “We were in the infancy of starting a food subscription service here, before the lockdown.

“Better is a social enterprise so part of our ethos is to serve the community we’re in.

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“Here we’re providing a facility that’s spacious and people can social distance.

“Every week, it’s increasing, as those who didn’t know there was such a service are now signing up.

“All of it is food that would normally go to landfill, provided to us by SOFEA (a South Oxfordshire anti-food waste campaign group) for free.

“Local businesses and shops have been donating too.”

Mr Busby has been involved with Better for 11 years and became partnership manager at the beginning of March, prior to the government lockdown.

He said Mr Cameron was ‘another one of the army’ helping deliver the service.

“He’s treated the same as others and waits in the queue just like everybody else,” he added.

Oxford Mail:

Phil Stanley, 31, has worked at Better for almost five years and was furloughed from his role as a community sports officer, but is now volunteering to help out.

He said: “Rizvana asked me if I wanted to get on board with co-ordinating things so I oversee the operational side of things.

“We’re trying to push the delivery side, as we don’t want too many people outside collecting items.

“The delivery drivers turn up, we load them up and send them on their way

“SOFEA provide all the food for free – food that would normally go to landfill.”

SOFEA source provisions from surpluses generated by the Thames Valley region’s supermarkets.

Much of this food would end up in landfill if it was not collected by SOFEA.

For a £2 donation, the public can sign up for the subscription service with the Chippy larder.