Since 2000, The Trussell Trust Foodbank outlets have been set up across the country in church halls and community spaces to provide essential items to people who cannot afford food or toiletries. The pandemic and cost of living crisis has had a big impact on the demand for services and Foodbank staff are increasingly busy. Gill Donovan, the outlet lead for the Bishop’s Cleeve Foodbank, shares her experience.
The Bishop’s Cleeve Foodbank is one of six outlets which operate under the North Cotswold Foodbank, which has a central food warehouse in Guiting Power. Having volunteered for three years, Gill took over as the outlet lead in September 2020.
“I’d been volunteering at the Foodbank for some years and over that time we have certainly got increasingly busy. We first saw a significant increase in October 2021, which was when the Government stopped the additional Universal Credit payment they had made during the pandemic. Then around February 2022, we saw another spike when a lot of people started to see their energy bills increasing and that increase from 12 months ago has not ever declined.*
“Up to Christmas last year, we kept breaking our record for the number of clients we’d seen each week. Since January it’s been steady again, but we just don’t know what’s going to happen. That, for me, is the most challenging thing about the Foodbank, that you have absolutely no idea what the demand is from one week to the next. Pre-COVID, there were some weeks where we might not have a client at all, and we thought we were busy if we had three or four clients attending our Friday morning sessions. Now, I cannot remember the last time we didn’t have a single client, and a ‘quiet’ week is about eight or nine clients.”
The increase in demand has also impacted the time for pastoral care and support.
“When I started at the Foodbank, our normal way of operating was to greet the client, offer them a cup of tea and sit with them and chat. Sometimes faith would come into the conversation and some of us might offer prayer. However, when COVID happened, we had to change our model and couldn’t offer cups of tea due to social distancing rules. We ended up handing over food in the car park. But we’ve never gone back to the tea and chat, not because of COVID but because we’re too busy. It does feel that we are missing that opportunity to offer more pastoral support like this, and we are looking at ways we can improve that.”
Bishop’s Cleeve and surrounding areas have grown in recent years, and are continuing to grow, with an estimated population of 19,000 (compared to Tewkesbury’s 17,000).
Gill says, “There are a number of different reasons for the extra demands on us and the additional housing is one of them. It is interesting that the village is now likely bigger than Tewkesbury town.”
“Offering a debt adviser takes the service one step further.”
The Foodbank is well served by a waiting list of volunteers and a steady stream of food donations, but Gill says that the financial aid they have received has been a particular help.
“We have been able to fund our own Citizens Advice adviser, who comes to our weekly sessions to work with our clients. We subsequently received a grant from the Trussell Trust to expand this service and we now have two part-time case workers/debt advisers coming in to help clients here in Bishop’s Cleeve and in Winchcombe. That has been the thing that has made a really big difference.
“Clients are getting advice and help to navigate through difficulties and support filling out paperwork and knowing what benefits they can claim. It takes the service one step further. For me, it feels better that we are offering more than just a food parcel, because the food parcel alone isn’t solving the person’s problem.”
Gill explains that alongside the increase in numbers of people needing the support, the demographic of clients has also changed and become broader over the years.
“We used to see a lot of families. There’s been a shift and we see a lot of single people now, and single parents or couples. A couple of weeks ago, I saw a client who was a single mum with two children. I asked her if she was working and she told me she was a part-time nurse. Inwardly, I was shocked. That is sadly not atypical anymore.
“At the other end, we also see a number of pensioners, people over 60. People who cannot manage on their state pension or who fall in between the gaps, without savings, who might not be old enough to claim a pension but also cannot find work. Their resilience is really tested and there are quite a lot of mental health issues. You see how hard it is for people to help themselves when they’re not in a very good place. The ‘just get a job’ narrative isn’t helpful as these people are struggling to cope. Particularly with the need for technology, like mobile phones, life generally is more expensive these days.”
“The Foodbank should be planning its own demise.”
The growth of a charity providing support to others is usually something to be celebrated; however, Gill says she is concerned about this.
“The ethos of the Trust is that we shouldn’t be here. We should be planning our own demise. The Trust does a lot of campaigning and lobbying to Government, but we are getting busier and busier. If we were out of business, we’d be happy. Foodbanks have become an accepted part of society and that is wrong. We are starting to see people regularly; we are becoming their weekly shop. Politicians speak about this as though it is normal, and it’s not normal. It’s not right.”
The Trussell Trust is an anti-poverty charity founded on Christian principles supporting a national network of foodbanks across the UK. In the Diocese of Gloucester alone, The Trussell Trust supports 11 Foodbanks, with warehouse hubs located around the county. There are also other independent foodbank services, provided in community centres and church halls. Each one operated and led by volunteers from the worshipping community and beyond.
Foodbanks rely on the community’s support to ensure they can continue to stop people going hungry. To give a one-off or regular donation, visit: The Trussell Trust – Stop UK Hunger
* In 2021, (Jan–Dec) the Bishop’s Cleeve Foodbank gave out 207 food parcels. For the same period in 2022, they gave out more than double at 452 food parcels.