THE Meals-on-Wheels service across the Chichester area could be heading for crisis when drastic changes take place in the next few weeks, volunteers have warned.
The army of volunteers, who will no longer be needed to deliver hot meals, will be asked to take on different roles.
These include going into the homes to microwave ready meals and conduct ‘safe and well’ checks.
But angry volunteers say they will quit because they did not sign up to be ‘care workers’.
The six kitchens which currently cook meals for customers across the south of West Sussex, including Bognor Regis, which provides meals for the Chichester, Witterings and Selsey area, are to close.
Instead, ready meals supplied by The Compass group will be stored in Rustington and some 700 a day will be delivered in specially-adapted vans by paid drivers.
One volunteer, who preferred not to be named, told the Observer: “I am gutted, I have been a volunteer for 16 years. The people who came up with this are living in cloud cuckoo land and I really can’t see how it’s going to work.
“The big problem is volunteers are being expected to be care workers. Instead of delivering a hot meal and then leaving, we are expected to go in, put it in the microwave, plate it and serve it. We could be asked to do all sort of other things. The majority of people I have spoken to won’t be doing it.”
She said customers had not yet been consulted and many would be ‘pretty upset and confused’.
Liz Stone, who delivers from Midhurst, said she was unhappy with the new role: “I personally think there will be a volunteer crisis because of the changes.”
Fellow volunteer Pat Broadbent said: “I think it’s a ridiculous idea. They should leave things alone.”
A West Sussex County Council spokesman said a new contract had been drawn up with the Royal Voluntary Service after the expiry of the previous agreement.
She said WSCC was one of the few local authorities still committed to the service and the new contract had not been a ‘cost-based decision’.
Meals would continue to cost £4.10 per week, until at least March next year.
“Volunteers will continue to be an integral part of the service, but they will be used differently. It will be create a much more flexible service,” she said.
Debbi Fair, the Royal Voluntary Service’s head of operations for the south east, said a consultation with affected staff had been running since August 6 and they had been holding regular meetings with volunteers to keep them up to date.
“The new scheme means those receiving meals can choose when their meal is cooked,” she said.
“This may be by a volunteer when their meal is delivered, or at a different time of the day, should the customer prefer to cook the meal themselves.
“The new service is designed to suit the needs and preferences of those who use the service.”