77-year-old Don Gardner is the manager of food banks in Camborne, Redruth and Pool – three towns that are currently ranked some of the most impoverished in the UK with high unemployment, income deprivation and suicides. Byline TV spoke to the local hero, who last year announced plans to retire – however has yet to do so in the midst of the unending local hardship.
The 2008 financial crisis sent shockwaves throughout the UK, millions lost their jobs and areas like Camborne were hit hardest. The town’s 4,000 year mining heritage ceased in 1998 with the closure of its mines and its biggest employer – Holman Brothers Ltd, a manufacturer of mining equipment. Ever since, the community has been unable to recover, growing vastly dependent on charities like that of Gardner’s.
“Poverty has gone up in this area three or four times, people are really struggling” says Gardner. A total of 17 neighbourhoods in Cornwall are ranked in the 10% most impoverished areas in the UK, with Camborne having some of the poorest streets such as the Pengegon Estate, where according to the local Council up to 58% of under 16s live in poverty.
“We’re providing on average around 10,000 meals a month. It’s a serious problem in this area. Low wages, part-time working, and residents can’t survive. Rents are high in Cornwall, and you’re in an area now where child poverty is 10% above the national average; that’s 1 child in 3 in Camborne, Pool and Redruth.” explains Gardner who has been working in the foodbank for 12 years.
“Camborne, Pool and Redruth has the highest suicide rate in England per capita head. We’re just in a very poor area and people just cannot survive.” says Gardner. Cornwall has had a higher suicide rate than the national average for some time, a report sent to the NHS Kernow Clinical Commisioning Group found that suicides during the Covid pandemic of 2020 had doubled.
“This shouldn’t be happening in 2021, especially with the G7 seven miles away. I wrote to Boris Johson saying perhaps he ought to come and visit a food bank. But he hasn’t answered me.” says Gardner. With numbers of child poverty well above the bar set out in the UK’s Child Poverty Act (Later scrapped by the Conservative Party in 2015) and with more homeless than any other English county with some allegedly being pushed out of hotels to make room for G7 attendees, it’s little wonder why the ramifications of the G7 look bleak for Cornwall’s poorest neighbourhoods.
“I know we’re just in the G7 situation, and all these politicians are arriving in the area. And tonight they’ll be drinking wine at £850 a bottle and they’ll shake hands and disappear, and Camborne will be left exactly the same.”
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