Day 5 – Festival Church Food Bank

April 12, 2011 § Leave a comment

It’s now a week into our Robin Hood Road Tour, and we’ve been all over – from London, Brighton, Bristol, Cardiff, Ebbw Vale, Oxford, Birmingham and Corby in the Midlands. Today’s update comes in two halves – the first is an ask for help in sharing the videos we’ve recorded, the second is a story from a food bank in the valleys of mid-Wales.

Videos to share on your Facebook/Twitter

This campaign is reliant on the stories we collect being heard all over the country. Will you help spread the word and post these online or pass them on through email?

Food Bank, Ebbw Vale in Wales

On Friday we drove an hour north of Cardiff, into the valleys of Wales. In an area that has lost it’s first major industry – coal mining – and then the second main employer – the steel works, Ebbw Vale is now one of the poorest parts of the country. Record levels of unemployment, single-parent families, teenage pregnancies – the list begins to sound familiar. These are the kind of people that Iain Duncan Smith last year famously told to ‘get on a bus to Cardiff‘ to find a job.

Right at the top of one of the hills, in front of an out-of-town shopping centre, is the Food Bank in Festival Church. Run by a family who lead the church and a team of volunteers, the food bank distributes emergency food to individuals and families in crisis. The tins of baked beans and boxes of tea inside the church line the shelves as if it was a normal shop. Maintaining dignity and a sense of security is an important part of this work.

Why do people end up needing this kind of help?

We hear about the different situations that lead to people needing emergency food. One man had lost his council home after a fire, and had been living in a small flat. One day, he discovered he would be unable to access any money as a result of a delay in his benefits. These things happen often enough for local benefits staff to have food vouchers in hand to give to those awaiting their payment. With the vouchers, he walked 10 miles from his home to the food bank. As well as a food packet, he received money for a bus ticket home and a lift to the bus stop.

Another man had arrived in a BMW – making staff sceptical of his need for a food package. On enquiry, it emerged that in one week – the man’s wife had left him and his two young children, taken the couple’s savings, and he had been made redundant. Now unable to pay the mortgage, and with an empty bank-account, he was in the process of selling the car and was reliant on the donated food.

“People here are one pay cheque away from poverty” explains Adrian Curtis – a man whose enthusiasm for life and strength of faith bristle in every word he says. “I’d say around 45% of our clients have fallen through the social support net somehow. Often people who come to us just don’t know where else to turn.”

Working with others

When this food bank opened two years ago – there were 25 others around the UK. This year, there will be over 100. One reason why they’re growing so quickly is because they work together with other service providers. DrugAid, homeless shelters, health services, Age Concern, the benefits office – all of these have vouchers that they can give to people in need. This is exactly the ‘joined-up-thinking’ that we might hear being advocated on the news by politicians. Again, we come to the fact that good relationships make things work.

Core funding for the work comes from larger organisations like Oxfam and the Trussell Trust, and the church has just started a social enterprise community radio station which will also raise funds for the Food Bank. They have a passionate, if small, listenership including the local carpet man, who gets his requests played as he’s due to fix the upstairs carpets the day after we come to visit.

But most positively, the food bank is largely reliant on donations from the local community – churches, schools, and individuals. (They have even had a supermarket home delivery van drop off an order somebody made online for them.) Clients, those who come to the food bank with vouchers, know this – and it clearly matters. One explains,

“They have helped me out in every way I could have hoped for. It gives you hope. It’s not just the food and the money, it’s the fact that someone cares.”

Lessons

  • Although we may think of communities as economically poor, there is much potential for peer-support and solidarity. Not only in terms of material goods, but in terms of strength of spirit and resilience.
  • Identifying the needs of the people you serve, and then working with other providers to create a joined-up service is what works best.
  • The church, in this case, provided a hub for all the work Food Bank does. It helped to build community. What other (secular as well as religious) institutions could play this role?

Thank you for reading and for sharing these stories.

A client in Festival Church Food Bank

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