A County Durham pet food bank has become a 'lifeline' for some owners across the region, as an increasing number of people are being supported by the project.

Over 50 pets have received parcels of food from the Community Hub, based in Chester-le-Street, so far this year and numbers are increasing because of the rising cost of living.  

Run by the RSPCA’s Sunderland, Hartlepool & South Tyneside Branch, the facility at Front Street opened in July 2023 after the independent charity had to close their two existing retail shops because of the Covid-19 pandemic; one of their main sources of income.

The Northern Echo: The Pet Food Bank in Chester-le-StreetThe Pet Food Bank in Chester-le-Street (Image: RSPCA)

As well as a pet food bank, the Community Hub provides free advice and information sessions for pet owners, pet health clinics and vouchers for microchipping and neutering.

There’s also a new charity shop and office space for the branch to run their Ebay store, with all money raised going to support their local animal welfare work and the treatment and rehabilitation of animals rescued by RSPCA frontline officers. 

Community Hub Project Coordinator Allison West said: “Our pet food bank helped over 75 animals in 2023 but cost of living pressures mean the service is now more in demand than ever.

The Northern Echo: One of the dogs who has been helped by the pet food donationOne of the dogs who has been helped by the pet food donation (Image: RSPCA)

"Our numbers have increased by around 50 per cent since the New Year and are continuing to go up. While it's mainly dog owners we’re supporting, we’ve also provided food, litter and bedding for cats, rabbits and even pet rats.

“We want to do all we can to help as we know pets can be a huge source of comfort to their owners and they shouldn’t feel forced to give them up - after all, they are much-loved members of the family.

The Northern Echo: A volunteer at the RSPCA facilityA volunteer at the RSPCA facility (Image: RSPCA)

“We hope our hub is a welcoming community space where people can come in with their pets for a chat, a cup of coffee or a browse around our shop. It’s all about helping to keep people and their pets together in challenging times, whether that be through providing a food parcel, a little bit of advice or a listening ear.” 

Nationwide, the RSPCA has provided 1.6 million pet meals through its 130 pet food bank schemes which were introduced in 2020 as part of a major drive to help keep those facing financial hardship together with their pets.  

In County Durham, the hub’s pet food bank supports people from Sunderland, Hartlepool and South Tyneside, with generous donations provided by the local community and neighbouring businesses.

The Northern Echo: The outside of the RSPCA community hubThe outside of the RSPCA community hub (Image: RSPCA)

A new volunteer driver will also be starting soon, according to the RSPCA, enabling supplies to be transported to those who need them. 

Alan, who brings his dog to the pet food bank and has had his name altered for this article, said: "The Community Hub is a brilliant project and has helped me and Tyler (his dog) out three times in as many months.

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"The cost of living crisis many of us are facing right now also affects the animals we own and love and I’m so grateful to the team for the help they have provided to us."

After securing new premises, the branch was inundated with donations for their new shop - including second-hand furniture from Durham Council Council.

A dedicated cost-of-living hub and telephone helpline (0300 123 0650) has been set up by the RSPCA and pet owners are being urged to seek help if required.