New home for Swanage food bank as churches rally to the rescue

Swanage food bank is on the move after the surprise closure of the Salvation Army Church building in the High Street.

The Victorian former mission hall, built in 1872, unexpectedly shut at the beginning of March 2024, leaving both the food bank – a crucial service for those most in need – and the Swanage Salvation Army organisation looking for new premises.


The lower entrance to the Salvation Army building in Kings Road East, where the Swanage food bank has been based for several years

Food bank moving to the URC

Fortunately other local churches were able to come to the rescue and despite the short notice, the food bank is now set to relocate to the United Reform Church, while the Salvation Army has found a new home at the Methodist Church, both further along Swanage’s High Street. 

The food bank is expected to move up the road on Tuesday 2nd April 2024 and will carry on its outstanding charity work without any foreseeable transition problems.

Swanage Food Bank provides up to a week of free meals at a time – breakfast, lunch and dinner – for every member of any household in need, thanks to the generosity of local residents, businesses and organisations.

Donations of food are made into blue food bins found in Budgen’s, the Co-op, Costcutters and Spar, or donated by members of the congregation at local churches, then distributed by the charity’s volunteers.

More than 150 people are regularly helped every month, quite often meaning more than 3,500 meals a month are provided for families who are referred to the charity by the children’s centre, medical practice, social services, schools and churches, amongst others.

A small section of the Swanage Food Bank’s stores, which will be moved to the United Reformed Church in April 2024

“Important to find new premises”

Pauline Werba, chair of the Swanage Food Bank said:

“There is still a huge need for many people who really cannot afford to pay for basics like food and heating, and that has got worse over the last few weeks and months. We know there will be a continued need, which was why it was so important to find new premises.

“Everything that we provide is free, including fresh food such as eggs, bread, spread, milk, vegetables and fruit.

“We don’t impose a limit on the number of times a household receives food bank assistance – emergencies don’t always get resolved immediately, and we understand this.

“But if the same people continue to claim a lot from us, we will suggest that they go to Citizens Advice and get help to manage their utilities and limited finances better – there is extra help from various sources that they might not be aware of.

“We are blessed in Swanage that there are different community schemes which help with the needy, opportunities for people to gather what they need and pay a little bit towards it, like the mobile larder schemes.”

The United Reformed Church in the High Street, which will be the food bank’s new home from April 2024

Generosity of Swanage shoppers

Shoppers in Swanage have been incredibly generous with their food donations throughout the cost of living crisis and the food bank also received nearly £25,000 in donations during 2023 to pay for extra items which are needed as well as running costs.

Tins of meat, rice, pasta, tinned fruit and vegetables, breakfast cereal, marmalade, jam and savoury spread, biscuits and savoury crackers, pasta sauces and coffee are always in high demand, and messages are left in the supermarkets to request anything that the charity is low on.

Food donations are picked up by the food bank’s volunteer drivers and have been taken back to the Salvation Army headquarters.

With the closure of the church building, a well planned operation after the Easter weekend will see all the charity’s supplies and equipment switched to the United Reformed Church.

Swanage Methodist Church will now also be the home of the Swanage Salvation Army

“We are all ready to go”

Pauline Werba said:

“The Salvation Army has been good, although it originally said we would have to go by Easter, we have been allowed an extra week so we can get everything done without being under any pressure.

“We were at the end of our lease at the Salvation Army Church, although we were hoping it would be renewed and didn’t expect to have to move.

“But the United Reformed Church was very welcoming and willing to accommodate us in a spare room they have.

“We have a big freezer and a new fridge to move as well as all our stock, but we have the loan of a van and driver, and we are all ready to go.”

Jonathan Greetham, the Community First Responder who represented Dorset CFR’s and SWASFT at the NHS 75 service

Major Jonathan Greetham of Swanage Salvation Army, pictured in his role as Community First Responder

Salvation Army work and worship to continue

Major Jonathan Greetham of Swanage Salvation Army said:

“The Salvation Army in Swanage is not closing, we are just relocating and from the beginning of March 2024 for the foreseeable future, our regular meetings and services will be held in conjunction with the Methodists at their church.

“The three churches – ourselves, the Methodists and the United Reformed Church – already meet together on the first Sunday of the month, which has been happening for the past 18 months.

“One of the nice things about the community in Swanage is that all the separate church denominations work together, the leaders meet up to discuss needs for the town and the local community and react to that.

“All of our work in the community – like working with the schools, the Christmas toy appeal and taking in clothing and sleeping bags for rough sleepers – will continue as before, our relocation will have no effect on that.

“The sale of the church in Swanage is for the property department of our church to decide and that’s not an immediate thing.”

Despite its Victorian heritage and prime position on Swanage High Street, the Salvation Army Church isn’t a listed building

“Church is not limited to a building”

Major Mike Lloyd-Jones, divisional leader for Central, Southern and Channel Islands Salvation Army said:

“Our building is closed but the Salvation Army remains in Swanage. We have formed an ecumenical partnership with Swanage Methodist Church on the High Street.

“Our church members are now using the Methodist church building where we can serve and welcome the community more effectively together. People can join in with Salvation Army worship in Swanage Methodist Church every Sunday morning at 10.30 am.

“The Salvation Army has been in Swanage since 1887 and will remain here. We are thinking about how best to use our resources and are reminded that church is not limited to a building but remains in the bodies of its people. Our community will be kept updated as to the future of our building.”

Christian mission hall

The Salvation Army Church building began life in 1872 as an independent Christian mission hall by the group that was eventually to become part of the United Reformed Church.

When the hall became redundant in 1887 it was first leased and then sold to the Salvation Army.

Future plans for the Victorian building are in the hands of the Salvation Army’s property department, but it is not on the National Heritage List for England and could be eyed up for conversion to housing.

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