VOLUNTEERS who are working 12-hour shifts to support Warrington’s most vulnerable say the situation is ‘heart-breaking’ and ‘crucifying’.

The number of people requiring support from Friends of Meadowside, a ‘wrap around’ support group, has more than doubled amid the cost-of-living crisis.

The group used to support around 220 people a week but since February this year, the numbers now average around 475.

From teenagers, to professionals, to the elderly – the demand and range of people needing support, in various forms, is higher than ever.

As well as supporting the general public, Friends of Meadowside has also been supporting schools across the town – providing bread, fruit and school uniforms.

Group founder Mark Davies said: “We have gone from being able to glide through the day from just being mad busy from the minute we open.

“It is right across the board the people who are needing support.

“We are getting professionals through the door as well as the non-working.

“Our youngest client is 18 and our eldest is 85. We have an 85-year-old who comes every single day because she just can’t afford mainstream food.

“It is just crucifying.”

Mark said that in Warrington there was a surge in demand for support after the universal credit uplift ended.

And now that fuel prices are increasing, so is demand for the group’s services again.

The warehouse, which is on Festival Avenue in Orford, opens at 10am.

Warrington Guardian: Friends of Meadowside founder Mark Davies and director Kellie Rowley outside the base on Festival Avenue in OrfordFriends of Meadowside founder Mark Davies and director Kellie Rowley outside the base on Festival Avenue in Orford

Mark added: “We open at 10am and the queue goes literally down the road and around the corner more or less every morning.

“The earliest people are queuing from is 8.15am.”

The Friends of Meadowside team offer everything from free food to a community shop to welfare support.

The team also support victims of domestic abuse, can help to provide one-to-one counselling and help with things such as universal credit, bills and PIP forms.

But Mark says besides emotional support, support with bills is what most people desperately need help with at the moment – so the group has teamed up with Utility Warehouse meaning they can generally get bills 10 per cent below the price cap.

The volunteers have also just taken on a storage unit on Lythgoes Lane as they are launching a new furniture project to support families who are in crisis.

“We knew we were going to do this with the cost-of-living crisis as people can’t even afford basics,” Mark said.

Amid the huge rise in residents needing support from the group, all volunteers are now averaging a 12-hour day.

Mark said: “It is tough. I am 17st 9 and 6ft 3 – I have seen quite a lot in life but this brings me to tears.

“It is hard on our team seeing some of the cases that we deal with.”

The group also support the homeless but as they are unable to cook with the food provided, the volunteers keep sandwiches and similar items aside for them.

Talking about what needs to done to combat the cost-of-living crisis, Mark said: “I think generally the government as a whole need a reality check.

“They don’t live in the real world. I don’t think they would know a crisis if it hit them in the face.”

Friends of Meadowside is open to residents who need support in any form.

“The biggest achievement for anybody is coming through the door,” said Mark.

“Once they come through the door we can and we will take care of them.

“Just come down and be open, honest and talk to us.

“I’ll put a brew on and we can help where we can.”

The group is able to support residents through various fundraising activities and kind donations from local businesses and charity partners.

To find out more, visit here.