Dear Prime Minister

I’ve never blogged about what I do. I am the Founding Trustee and Project Director of a Foodbank.

I wrote this letter to PM, The Rt. Hon. David Cameron, MP in December 2010. He didn’t come – but it tells the story of how we got started.

Our "Dear Leader"

Our “Dear Leader”

Dear Prime Minister

Having run the Cardiff Foodbank since it’s opening in January this year I would like you to come and see the Big Society you talk about at work.

From the response in the papers and at your own Party Conference it would appear that the general public do not understand this concept and it may help you if they were to see it in action instead.

I am aware that you are coming to Cardiff in the New Year and would like to take this opportunity to invite you to visit our project.

We are a successful new project, which in its first year has broken all targets in fund raising, volunteer recruitment, business partnerships, service provision partnerships, and delivery of service to target groups. This has been done simply by providing a catalyst for the community to act on their goodwill and desire towards helping those less fortunate within our midst.

I am a mum, who stayed at home for 10 years to raise my girls until the youngest began full time education in 2007. Although I had management experience I was regarded as over qualified for part time work and probably to out of date with my skills (although they were too kind to say so at interviews).  Bored and creative, I began to research the need for a Foodbank in Cardiff in 2008 and found that not only was there already a need but that with the recession (and necessary cut backs in order to tackle the deficit) it was likely that the need would increase significantly.

Neither my husband, Ian nor I had huge reserves of savings, having had a single wage for over 10 years and he was already working in the charity sector. We would neither of us be described as dynamic either! However we are people of faith, felt this was what we should be doing with our energies and our church gave us £250 for a down payment on a franchise to a charity called the Trussell Trust who supplied us with a manual, a Dummies Guide if you like, with which to launch our own Foodbank.

Most Foodbanks in their network, of over 75, are in market towns or specific local boroughs. We in Cardiff are a Unitary Authority and so decided to cover the whole city via local neighbourhood distribution centres supplied by a central warehouse.

We felt we should have 3 months rent in the bank before signing a lease with the local council and when this was in place we went ahead after negotiating the first two months rent-free.

Unknown-2Within the same week we booked with Sainsbury’s and Asda to be allowed to collect donated food from their customers on a regular basis. This is at no cost to the supermarket but significantly increases their turnover for the day we are there collecting.

The Co-op have also recently helped us and we are in discussions with Morrisons and Tesco’s.

The warehouse opened on 1st Jan 2010. To date we have collected 18 tons of food. We have fed well over 750 people approx half of which will have been children. We have also given over 2 tons to charities supporting the homeless, asylum seekers and refugees.

We now work in partnership with:

Drug and alcohol support agencies

The NHS via doctor’s surgeries, local Health Visitors and hospitals

British Red Cross

All 13 local authority housing support agencies

Mental health support groups

Age Concern

Barnardo’s

Family Centres

High Schools

Primary Schools

Refuge Houses

Family & Single Hostels

Social Services

Asylum Support agencies

Plaid Cymru

Debt Advice Centres

Outreaches to the Homeless and Prostitutes

Disability Agencies

Ethnic groups & Race Equality Agencies

Jewish, Muslim & other faith groups

Homestart

Muslim ex offender support group

All denominations of the local church

Communities First Teams

In short – our community

We are supporting people such as:

HIV patients

Professionals who have lost jobs through redundancy or ill health

Low Income families

Those released from prison

Refugees & Asylum seekers

People who on the face of it are ‘well off’ but have been made redundant and are now crippled by debt

Those with mental health problems

Eastern European economic migrants

The unemployed facing benefit cut or delay

The elderly

The disabled and those with acute and chronic health problems

In short – our community

Our volunteers & supporters include:

Christian believers

People of other faiths and no faith

Ex-clients

Those with mental illness

Those with learning difficulties

Families

School children

Those needing work experience and skills development

The blind

Professionals, including our solicitors

Welsh Assembly Minister’s & Council Members

Whole school bodies

Africans, Americans, Asians and Europeans

Students

University lecturers

FE Colleges

Rotary & Lions

G.P’s

O.A.P.’s

Retired people

Asylum seekers & refugees

Unemployed

Local businesses and other charities

Multinationals

In short – our community

My husband joined the ranks of those made redundant in July and he began helping me in Project Managing the Foodbank. Living on our redundancy payment and a small amount of savings, we survived until being granted funding by Comic Relief and the National Lottery that will support us as Project Managers until 2012.

We meet with nothing but enthusiasm and positivity. With gratitude and relief. We hear the most dreadful stories but in the midst we are honoured to provide both practical help, a listening ear and as a result, hope. We can and we do.

We can help an HIV suffer in the midst of cancer and chemo, European, alone, addicted, dying and with out food. An appalling prospect in the C21st UK or anywhere at any time. We may not change his diagnosis nor his immediate circumstances but he won’t die hungry or alone now.

We have received very little help so far from either local or national government, whilst saving them quite a lot of money although that has not been quantified as yet but we are working on that. We are not complaining but mention it merely as evidence of just what local community groups can achieve with goodwill, hard work and very little central government help.

UnknownWe are negotiating more warehouse space with a locally based national distribution company. We’ve received food donations from Cadbury’s, Spar and other large food producers – we even received a massive donation of food from a Hindu community in West Wales.

Photocopying and printing costs have been donated, local initiatives of the Welsh Assembly have helped finance a van and its running costs with matched funding from another funder and a business in Devon. Smaller items such as sack trolley and stepladders also came from a similar source. A friend made redundant in the same round as my husband donates graphic design work – he now has more work than he can manage. Those with the necessary skills have donated the time to develop our business plan, our policies and run our warehouse.

I suffered both postnatal depression after my girls were born and a nervous breakdown as a result. At times this year I have felt stretched beyond where I can possibly go but my faith and the wonderful way in which we are growing not just in size but in momentum and good local community vibes (for want of a better way of putting it) has kept me going. I share this to dispel any ideas this letter might invoke of a strong, dynamic vibrant businesswoman! I get by.

Our children have learnt what it is to sacrifice for others and to discover the valuing of serving their community, they will be the next generation, it is they who will replace us.

We are building for the future whatever it holds. Others are building with us. We believe in the Big Society, understand the need for drastic cuts.

The Welfare State was a wonderful creation but it has robbed our society of cohesion as it destroyed the need to pull together. We’ve sat back and demanded the state do it all. And we haven’t wanted to pay for it.

I believe we are seeing a huge shift in the way we need to live as a nation, but can see you are having trouble getting the message across. So come and see Cardiff Foodbanks contribution to the Big Society and demonstrate it. People need stories, they need pictures – words are not enough.

Yours faithfully…………………

(June 2013) PS: You should see us now! You’ll never believe it……………. 

NB: All views expressed here are my own and not representative of Cardiff Foodbank as an organisation. They are likely to change, especially if I’m tired or hungry!

Travel Theme: The Four Elements

This week’s challenge had me a bit worried about portraying wind but then we decided to go on a family day out and it gave me the ideal subject matter – birds of prey! So here are my offerings on this challenge.

EARTH

WIND

FIRE

WATER

 

Word A Week Challenge: Mountains

Travel Challenge: Beaches – 2

Here are a few more delicious beaches I have been lucky enough to visit recently.

Living on the coast we spend a lot of time at the beach year round, and had a fab day last week celebrating Welshman’s birthday with a BBQ. But annoyingly our nifty little Panasonic DMZ has lost its memory card and I can’t access its internal memory with my Mac for some reason. So pictures will have to wait. I hope to rectify that soon but technology is not my strong point! Sorry, hope I didn’t getting you all excited there……..

But just to whet your appetite further……..we went to Rhosilli beach on the Gower, which is an awesome one, voted the best in the UK, 3rd best in Europe and 10th worldwide! It was made world-famous by being in the BBC TV series, Torchwood. It is the site of the isolated farmhouse in which Rhys and Gwen were hiding in the Miracle Day episodes. It was also featured in the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics during an a cappella performance of Bread of Heaven (VERY big Welsh hymn always sung at major Rugby matches).

Anyway, for now you’ll have to wait – enjoy these photos of my recent trips to St Ives, Cornwall, UK and Sardegna, Italy for now.

KAMCHATKA by Marcello Figueras

Book No. 2 of my Bucket List 2013 challenge

Do you know where Kamchatka is?

Rivers, bears, volcanos: just some of the things amazing Kamchatka has to offer. Photograph: Alamy

Rivers, bears, volcanos: just some of the things amazing Kamchatka has to offer. Photograph: Alamy

It’s one of the places in the world that I would LOVE to visit but probably never will. Years ago, one summer, I watched Fiddler on the Roof repeatedly because I was living in Romania and it was the only adult video that was in the house! Tevye’s daughter Hodel marries Perchik, a student revolutionary who’s arrested and exiled to Kamchatka, and I found Tevye’s farewell to her, as she caught the train east, heartbreaking. Later I saw a TV programme about the region and ever since I have longed to go. It is a remote, volcanic, wildlife rich, extreme but beautiful peninsula in Far East Russia, jutting out into the cold northern Pacific ocean. It’s why I chose to read this book.

It is also the name of one of the regions in the game, Risk; or, in the context of this book, it represents to ‘Harry’, the protagonist, the place that, ‘whenever the game turned ugly, I have holed up in and survived…..Because Kamchatka was the place from where you fought back’.

Set in and around Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1976,  it takes place at the beginning of the rule of the military junta. Seen through the eyes of a 10-year-old boy it is an account of the life of the ‘Vicente’ family, who have fringe involvement and connections with the left leaning fraternity, who were being rounded up and ‘disappeared’. They leave the city and take up residence in a borrowed quinta or bungalow just outside, going partially underground.

The family all change identities and our young narrator choses Harry due to his obsession with Houdini. He is at first outraged with the enforced exile. Isolated from friends, toys and all that is familiar, his 5-year-old brother ‘the Midget’, and he struggle to readjust. They are further outraged by having to convert to Catholicism to attend a new school although this leads to a little more normality in their lives.

Translated from the original Spanish by Frank Wynne

Translated from the original Spanish by Frank Wynne

However, the fear and the sense of impending doom are never far away even in the funny moments such as when his mother, a hopeless cook and housekeeper with dodgy taste in movies, reaches a new low in culinary offerings. Most often the threat is evoked by metaphor, such as the Midgets’ repeated bedwetting or the boys’ daily battle to rescue suicidal toads who’ve jumped into the swimming pool by placing a plank for them to find and so climb out. It has a claustrophobic feel throughout.

The advent of a teenage activist, Lucas, who befriends Harry, helps to make life more bearable and presciently Lucas teaches him physical survival skills, again a metaphor for the life he will be asked to live in the future. He also helps Harry to develop his escapologist skills, another metaphor for the predicament they both find themselves in.

Harry and his father have always played the Argentinian version of Risk and after replacing the copy left in their home in the city they continue to do so, building a sense of tension. As they battle it out on the board we know that the family are losing their battle against time. One of my favourite chapters is the one in which they visit their grandparents hacienda, enjoying intimate, inter-generational family time and spend a night under the stars. But you know instinctively that it simply the lull before the storm, one last precious moment.

The book has an interesting structure set around a school day, each part a school subject. It is full of cultural metaphors in the shape of magazines, TV programmes, films and music. Although the main narrator is the young Harry, there are several chapters told by the adult one too. These are brilliant, if whimsical, detours on subjects such as biology, geography and the nature of time as ways of seeing the world in reality, but I felt that these detracted from story overall.

It is a warm, often funny, book about a subject that could be so bleak and dark (and no doubt was) and yet we know it will indeed have a tragic ending because the author tells the ending in the first two pages! The book in effect goes full circle. ‘Kamchatka’ is the last word Harry’s father whispers in his ear before he is separated from his parents forever.

I’ll admit I cried – but I’m a mother, and what mother wouldn’t – given the circumstances?

To be honest I did find a lot of the book irritating mainly due to the constant metaphor and annoying literary references, which if you knew the subject matter was fine but if not……… I felt the author was showing off at times.

I also felt that there was a lack of depth too, in plotting and characterization. It felt almost cinematic which given the author’s day job is perhaps not unsurprising.

I do recommend it but with reservations.

But it was a thoughtful book, lacking bitterness over the politically history that under pins but never invades the story. This is probably due to the successful employment of the child’s voice – which is very convincing.

Try it – you may well love it.

Argentian screenwriter and author, Marcello Figueras

Argentinian screenwriter and author, Marcello Figueras

Travel Challenge: Beaches

Set by Ailsa at Where’s My Backpack: