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.
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 Although I had management experience I was regarded as over qualified for part time work and probably to out of date with my skills (although they were too kind to say so at interviews).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.
Within 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
Family & Single Hostels
Asylum Support agencies
Debt Advice Centres
Outreaches to the Homeless and Prostitutes
Ethnic groups & Race Equality Agencies
Jewish, Muslim & other faith groups
Muslim ex offender support group
All denominations of the local church
Communities First Teams
In short – our community
We are supporting people such as:
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 disabled and those with acute and chronic health problems
In short – our community
Our volunteers & supporters include:
People of other faiths and no faith
Those with mental illness
Those with learning difficulties
Those needing work experience and skills development
Professionals, including our solicitors
Welsh Assembly Minister’s & Council Members
Whole school bodies
Africans, Americans, Asians and Europeans
Rotary & Lions
Asylum seekers & refugees
Local businesses and other charities
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.
We 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.
(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!