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Older people eat a warm, hearty meal at a table.

Poverty Hurts: food and friendship in Ferryhill.

A Ferryhill community is seeing a growing number of food bank referrals to its lunch club, where local people come for food and friendship.

Ferryhill LADDER Centre’s Happy Hive project serves hot meals and offers activities to local residents once a week. Relaunching after the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, the project was supported by a £2,000 grant from County Durham Community Foundation, fundraised through the Poverty Hurts Appeal.

Centre manager Kath Merrington explained more:

“Happy Hive was initially about improving mental health and reducing social isolation, but over five years it has grown and many people now come after receiving support from our neighbourhood food bank, where they’re told about our sessions and the chance to get a hot meal and make new friends in the warm.”

Rising costs

Extra funding has proved crucial for the centre, which has been badly affected by rising energy bills – seeing a 500% increase in utility bills.

Kath said: “Our gas and electric bill has gone from £2,000 a year to £12,000 a year, which is a big concern, and we’ve always done what we can to raise our own revenue because everything we provide is completely free. We don’t charge for any of our activities although donations are very welcome, including donations of food.”

To reduce operating costs, the LADDER centre is no longer open on Fridays, but it has extended its opening hours on the days it is open from 8.30am, when it now offers a drop-in breakfast, to 8.30pm.

Despite the difficulties of running the centre, Kath and the team are determined to provide a positive place, where people have someone trusted to talk to.

Kath said: “As well as representing the local area, the name LADDER was chosen because that’s exactly what we like to do – provide a ladder to help people.

“Even in these testing times, we’re there to give people a positive experience, and your support is helping us keep doing that.”

Happy Hive runs every Thursday for two hours and is open to all residents of the Lakes Estate from which the centre got its name, and the wider Ferryhill community, who fundraised for five years to see the centre open. Now the Poverty Hurts grant will be used to help cover utility costs, as well as buying food for the popular food project.

Kath said: “LADDER stands for Lakes and District Development Education and Resource and we’ve been here now for 20 years. Lately we’ve seen more working people needing to access our services, which include benefit advice and calculations from our debt workers, who help people maximise their income. But all our team members are available for welfare support and advice.”

Volunteers are key

Volunteers are always needed to help out in the kitchen, where Happy Hive meals are prepared, and volunteers also support the centre on reception, with gardening, and with the delivery of activity sessions including job clubs, walking football, women’s groups, and wellbeing for life.

Two of Kath’s six-strong staff team came on board after receiving support at the centre, which led to them becoming volunteers before starting in their current roles.

To help us support more organisations like Ferryhill Ladder Centre to offer vital services like Happy Hive sessions, which start at 12noon each week, you can make a donation to the Poverty Hurts Appeal at



(1) No Poverty (2) Zero Hunger (3) Good Health and Wellbeing (10) Reduced Inequalities

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