A HUGE £27,000 package of support to tackle the growing problem of food poverty in Ilkley has been agreed by the Town Council to ease the burden on local people this Christmas - and beyond.

A meeting of Ilkley Town Council on Monday night agreed to the measures, which will run for three years.

The Town Council voted to give £3,640 to provide £20 worth of support for 182 families this Christmas. The council then committed £8,000 a year for three years to support food parcels. Bradford Council is also helping with a donation of £7,280 from the cost of living crisis fund.

Ilkley Town Mayor Councillor Karl Milner said: "The numbers claiming free school meals has doubled to 182 and this is a hidden problem.

“Councillors are determined to help. So a three year investment is being made into local consortia of charities and schools who provide help. This will enable them to plan and prepare for events rather than work hand to mouth, so to speak.

“It’s very important especially at this time of year that we as a town show we care – whatever your circumstances. I hope in some small way with support we will make life a little easier this Christmas to our residents in need. From Ilkley to you with our community’s love and respect.”

Councillors heard from Becky Malby of The Ilkley Great Get Together team, who partnered with Ilkley and Addingham schools and Ilkley Foodbank during the pandemic to support families in poverty with food parcels.

As the pandemic subsided it was thought so would food poverty, but the cost of living crisis has meant that rather than reducing the number of families in Ilkley now accessing free school meals has massively increased.

At Christmas and Easter every year food parcels of vegetables or meal boxes or Tesco grocery vouchers worth £20 per family of four are provided, along with store cupboard food from the foodbank, and a box of celebration food donated by people in Ilkley.

At Christmas every family gets a Christmas cake, mince pies, Christmas crackers and chocolate. Loafer Bakery makes mince pies, and children at Sacred Heart Primary provide cakes from their annual Christmas Cake competition.

This year Ilkley Soroptimists are baking 90 mini cakes to celebrate their 90th anniversary. Donations have also been made by The Rotary Club of Ilkley Wharfedale Youth Committee, along with support from the bridge clubs and rotary.

Becky Malby said: "The support has allowed the families to eat and not go hungry and relieved a very small financial pressure for perhaps a few days. Some of these families do not wish anyone else to know they are being supported and are very private.

"However, the need for support has reached a level that is beyond our ability to support purely through donations. We bid for funding this year for 182 families in Ilkley. Last year we had 140 families. At the beginning of the pandemic we were supporting 60 families. This is a huge increase in our community.”

The eligibility criteria for provision of the help is families accessing free school meals. A family of four people living on Universal Credit in Ilkley will have around £440 a week to pay for everything except rent and half their council tax.

Although the package of measures for this Christmas was passed unanimously, there were some abstainers and “no” votes on the plans to spend £8,000 a year for three years.

There were some concerns that funding might go to families whose children attend Ilkley schools but don’t live in Ilkley, and that the problem might decrease over those three years.

Becky said: “We can ensure that Ilkley funding goes to Ilkley families and Bradford Council funding supports families from outside the Town Council area and we will review the situation annually, but schools are telling us that there is no sign of need abating, as it continues to increase, in fact since the bid numbers have gone up today to 190 families.”

She added: "We want to thank not only the Town Council, but also all the Ilkley community who are baking, buying, collecting and packing the parcels for Christmas this year. Providing over 180 parcels is a huge effort and it is fantastic that so many people participate and contribute.

“We also need to thank the schools who distribute the parcels on behalf of us all. This means school staff volunteering at the weekend so that families can collect after the volunteers have finished packing. We are enormously grateful.

“If anyone still has time to bake a cake, or pop to the supermarket to help us, then donations of cakes, mince pies, Christmas crackers or any seasonal treats can be left at 30 Nelson Road until December 13.”