NESTLED in a warehouse in Hastings are boxloads of fruit and vegetables ready to be distributed around town.
An army of volunteers led by one man, Jean-Paul Dunin, are on a mission to get residents to ditch fried food and takeaways and adopt a more healthy lifestyle.
With obesity figures in the UK having one of the worst levels across Europe Mr Dunin and his team of volunteers and paid staff have their work cut out.
The Community Fruit and Veg Project, based in Britannia Enterprise Centre in Waterworks Road, was started seven years ago with the aim of providing affordable fresh produce to families on low incomes.
Jean-Paul Dunin, project manager, said the organisation is experiencing an increase in demand for its services with more than 100 clients on its books.
He said: “Our main project is ‘eat fresh, eat local’, which was started more than two years ago after we received money from the Big Lottery Fund.
“With this we target and work in the more deprived areas of town, like Ore, central St Leonards and Hollington and in poorer areas of Bexhill.
“The aim is to enable access to more affordable produce to those on low incomes.”
The project also helps more isolated rural areas in Hastings and Rother by supplying fruit and vegetables to village greengrocers.
There are five paid staff and around 40 volunteers who help keep the organisation running.
Some work in the warehouse in Waterworks Road and others operate table-top markets at community centres.
Mr Dunin said: “We have started working with the Sussex Autistic Society in helping provide work experience placements for people with Asperger’s Syndrome.”
The Community Fruit and Veg Project, which is currently applying for charity status, also runs a programme at Sussex Coast College Hastings to help budding entrepreneurs set up social enterprises.
It provides produce under its Veg Box scheme, which is available to everybody, where people can collect a box full of fresh vegetables or one packed full of fruit and vegetables, priced at £7.50 and £8.50 respectively.
The standard Veg Box includes a selection of produce sourced whenever possible from farms in East Sussex and Kent. It usually includes eight or more types of vegetable and one or two varieties of fruit. People can then collect their goods at designated drop-off points.
Mr Dunin said: “At the moment we are undertaking a marketing plan with the aim of increasing our work within the community such as offering more Veg Boxes.
“We hope to also set up a couple of new initiatives, such as promoting healthy eating in the workplace and offering fresh fruit to businesses.
“This has benefits for employers and staff as it can increase productivity and help lower sickness absence.
“We also aim to start running a programme in schools next year teaching children how to cook healthily.
“The people we are connecting with are eating more fruit and vegetables and a recent survey showed that almost 70 per cent of Hastings residents said they preferred having locally-grown produce.”
But he said problems with affordability and motivation often lead to people eating unhealthily, which is one of the main challenges his organisation faces.
Mr Dunin said: “I can understand why people buy convenience food. The problem is that it is not fresh, not local and high in fat and salt, which can contribute to obesity and poor health.
“Our produce is very competitively priced.”
For further information about the Community Fruit and Veg Project call 01424 201137.