Medway Foodbank: From the past to the present
The historical Rent Parties, which Darren Pritchard’s show concept is based on, grew from hard economic times and the need for communities to come together in mutual support. Wishing to honour this legacy, 50% of the ticket sales from Lyrici Art’s Medway production will be donated to Medway Foodbank.
In recent years and especially during the COVID-19 pandemic use of food banks has greatly increased, bringing prominence to growing concerns of food insecurity in the UK. We spoke to Lorraine Schulze, Project Manager of Medway Foodbank, to hear what work they have been doing in the area.
“All kinds of people make use of our services but there’s been a rise in people struggling to deal with a rapid change in circumstances,” says Lorraine. “One family who came to use were a working family with a young son. Before the pandemic they had not needed to seek charity support or other services but both parents lost their jobs at the beginning of lockdown. They downsized their home but still were unable to keep up with their bills and turned to us to make sure they were continuing to get proper meals.
“There have been a lot of stories like this since the beginning of lockdown: people who have never needed outside support before being referred to us to help make ends meet, even after changing homes or selling their cars.”
People seeking support from Medway Foodbank or other support services across Medway can come to them for a variety of reasons. “The biggest reason people give is a change in benefits or their benefits being delayed,” says Lorraine. “There is a 6 week window from the start of your Universal Credit application to receiving support and people often need a little extra help across that period.”
However people also seek help due to having low wages or inconsistent hours on zero-hour contracts, debt that has built up or because they are suffering from homelessness.
In 2018 Medway Foodbank was feeding over 5,800 people across Medway; in 2020 this had risen to 12,454 people and today has increased another 50% (these figures include all household members). The type of people using the foodbank is very mixed: all ages and groups use the foodbank, although 50% of people supported are of school age.
The Foodbank ship 1-2 tonnes of food a week and have recently moved to new premises in order to hold more supplies but this increase in support brings an increase in overheads.
“We have had amazing support from both private and public organisations across Medway and the UK. At the beginning of the pandemic British Gas offered their staff and vehicles to deliver packages to vulnerable people, and locally organisations like Graham’s Furniture and Paramount Foundation have done the same.
“Medway Probation Services, who often signpost people to us who have recently been released from prison, also helped collect food from local supermarkets. Medway Citizen’s Advice Bureau has provided incredible support, managing emergency national funds and supplies to provide their own food parcels
“We recently heard from someone who asked for one more parcel and we asked him why he only needed one more? Thanks to our support and the CAB he was able to set up a debt repayment plan plan to get him back on his feet.”
Foodbanks across the UK began from church communities as they noted a growing awareness of poverty affecting their congregation. Now nationally organised by the Trussell Trust, Medway Foodbank began in 2011 and today has around 150 volunteers working across Medway.
The Trussell Trust model works by issuing foodbank vouchers through local support agencies: council services, public support agencies like the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, schools, churches and others. This model ensures that people needing support are offered ‘wrap-around support’ to better help them move out of crisis. For example, those who need home appliances to make proper meals can be signposted to the CAB to receive kitchen equipment.
Other services the Foodbank are able to provide with support from other agencies are a Book Trust pack, an Art Trust pack and educational science cards from the Institute of Physics. “Nucleus Arts also worked to produce a cookbook for us which we can give out to our users so they can get ideas how to use our supplies to cook nutritionally complete meals,” said Lorraine.
There is a big emphasis on making sure that the meals provided are well-rounded. You can find a “shopping list” on Medway Foodbank’s website which is regularly updated with particular supplies that the Foodbank is asking for and what supermarkets are supporting the scheme. This includes hygiene items like shampoo and nappies.
There’s also the Spareable app, created by a supporter of the Trussell Trust. It provides a list of items a local Foodbank is looking for and lets you buy the items directly via Paypal to be delivered to their warehouses.
“These supplies really make a difference and we’re so glad people can offer a good variety of items to us. We have received many thankful calls from customers who have been in tears with the variety of items and support that we and the agencies who work alongside us have been able to provide.”
You can find more information about Medway Foodbank and their shopping list at their website here: https://medway.foodbank.org.uk/give-help/donate-food/ or download the Spareable app here: https://www.spareable.co.uk/