Food banks have become part of life in the UK.
Their usage is growing and, according to statistics from The Trussell Trust, over £1.1 million three-day emergency food supplies were issued in 2015-2016.
In 2010-2011 the figure was just 61,468. That’s a massive increase in just six years.
As a registered charity who have run a food bank for over three years, we have witnessed the growth in usage. We initially operated on a fairly strict referral system and clients would come via Social Services, Citizen’s Advice, Housing Associations and other professional bodies.
Food for Thought?
Over time it became apparent that some of the restrictions in the referral system seemed to be at best restrictive and at worst, well, pointless.
We relaxed the system and were delighted to see that not one single person made off with our entire stock or even took advantage and took food they apparently were not entitled to!
The idea that we needed to promote strict conditions to prevent ‘misuse’ could clearly be seen as a smokescreen to justify a form of control. This fear of misuse is promoted to the extent where hungry, desperate people (often with children in tow) were virtually asked for a DNA sample before they would even be considered for some free food!
That food of course would be a three-day ration of bland non-perishable items with no choice whatsoever.
This is where we have been as a society for the past six years with the food bank system.
But this is just one sad facet of a much, much, bigger situation.
Any food bank operator will know that their users are probably just 10% of the people who suffer occasionally from ‘food insecurity’. That is, they sometimes do not have the money to afford the next meal.
These are ordinary people. Yes, people like you and me. They are often in full time work with a partner working too. Apparently one in six parents have gone without food in the UK to enable their children to eat.
These people will never use a food bank. Ever.
There are many reasons ranging from pride to the idea that they ‘don’t qualify’. With the strict conditions imposed by some food bank operators it’s hardly surprising that this latter attitude persists.
But the point is – these are hungry people in our communities who need help and support. The question surely follows – ‘How do we assist these people’?
Here at BASIC we want food banks to retreat into their former home and become once again the vital emergency resource people could use as a last resort.
We are, of course going to maintain and run ours and we’re sure there will always be a need for it locally.
So, let’s help that other 90% of people who are in reality not in an ‘emergency situation’ but in a ‘food insecurity’ situation but with no other resource to call upon.
We want you to join us and open a BASIC Community Pop-Up Shop as an alternative.
Let’s run through what’s needed and how we can revolutionise the food problems in this country.
The UK has a massive food waste problem. Supermarkets throw away an obscene amount of perfectly edible food every day. There is more than enough food to feed our population – so it’s really a simple matter of redistribution!
Former Liberal Democrat chair the Rt. Hon Baroness Scott met with me a few weeks ago. She had previously produced a paper for the government regarding food waste with her colleagues at the House of Lords.
While optimistic about the eventual development into a fairer distribution of food, she felt it was unlikely that the government would introduce legislation to force major supermarkets to pass on edible food to charity groups in the same way as is in place in France and, more recently Italy.
Instead it was hoped that the supermarkets themselves would take the lead by being proactive on the issue. She mentioned that Tesco’s £1m plus investment in a food waste distribution system with Fare Share was an indication of this sectors good intentions.
Back to the redistribution and how we can do this.
We didn’t want power and control. We didn’t want ‘giving to the needy’. We wanted ‘Sharing with your community’.
We sought out a location for our Pop-Up shop. We found a church which was being used for only one hour per week in one of the most deprived areas of our town. After over two years of lobbying we eventually were allowed use on one day per week. Thankfully we received (and still receive) enormous support from the church community.
Almost every town or village has an under-utilized community building. The Church of England, for example, recognise that one of their biggest assets are their buildings. Sadly, due to a decline in church attendance and therefore revenue, these are being sold off simply to raise funds.
We had a better idea.
Once we had secured the location we went around all the local supermarkets, independents and put out a call for food.
Eventually we secured regular supplies of bread from a local bakery. It’s a fact that most bakeries over-produce daily as the loss risk is minimal when they consider potential profit versus production costs. The unsold bread is thrown away.
When you start your pop-up the first port of call is the local baker.
With the supermarkets only one (the last we called) came on board. Morrison’s were the company who supported us and we were disappointed that others did not even consider helping.
We decided to have our Pop-Up on a Tuesday so we arranged to collect the excess bread and food on a Monday evening for overnight storage.
Wonderful volunteers committed their time and talents (I’ve never visited a church where there wasn’t a brilliant cake-maker) and we were set.
Simple tables were laid out with the food carefully placed. A seperate table with tea, coffee and the above-mentioned cake was laid out with a FREE (or donate as you feel) poster.
As we have traditional charity shops we also laid out clothing, shoes and other items including school uniforms.
We put out a box of children’s books with a poster saying FREE (2 books per child) – well children reading is surely never a bad thing.
We were set.
The customers arrived to find the tables stacked with food and a lady holding a regular carrier bag – we had purchased a couple of hundred for just this purpose.
The sign read ‘£1 a bag – maximum of two per customer’.
The customers bought a bag (or two) and then – well that’s the magic part - they simply helped themselves!
Nobody was greedy, nobody shoved others out of the way.
People smiled. Some stayed and enjoyed cake and coffee while others left quietly.
When the session was over we put away the tables and added up the cash. On that first day we had £19 in donations for the tea, coffee and cake alone!
We hadn’t thought about money. We certainly hadn’t thought about making money.
We decided it should be put towards buying new paper cups or carrier bags or whatever we needed. But we realised that we’d have far more than we needed for that.
We decided to donate any money we made to a local community project. Ours is The BASIC Life Charity Parish Nurse project. We want to be the first non-church body to actually employ a parish nurse. We’re well over £1000 in funds toward it already.
OK – that’s what we did and continue to do.
It’s simple isn’t it?
Let’s look at the benefits.
Of course there is the obvious benefit that food which would otherwise be thrown away is consumed.
The churches have a regular stream of new visitors. These are very often people who would never ordinarily enter such a building. Inevitably after a few visits the customers start to realise there is ‘no catch’. They see and feel the spirit of generosity which is fuelling the project and they people volunteering to help their fellow man. Of course, they start asking about Christianity and some join the church.
The customers have dignity and choice. They are ‘purchasing’ a bag and this makes an incalculable difference in their attitude. Alright they may be able to get over £20 worth of food into that £1 bag but it’s their bag, they bought it.
People who would never use a food bank will use a pop-up shop. It is much more sociably acceptable to them. The purchase a bag aspect mentioned above turns it somehow into plain and simple shopping.
One of the most difficult things to achieve naturally occurs. We create community. People who have passed each other for years come together, share a drink or a story and the community is born.
People with learning disabilities or social anxiety problems sometimes find it impossible to use a traditional supermarket. With a pop-up the atmosphere is much more relaxed and we have found many anxious people feel more comfortable shopping with us.
The volunteers benefit enormously and thoroughly enjoy serving their community.
The food providers receive massive coverage through our social media contacts. This, of course is publicity money cannot buy. The goodwill is vital in a small town and this enhances their community -spirited stance. I am often slightly amused by the non-contributing supermarkets advertisements which probably cost an awful lot more to attract as much interest, goodwill and yes, sales than those joining us.
These are just some of the benefits. Of course you don’t need to operate a pop-up in a church building – it can be anywhere where there is a hall available for just three or four hours per week.
Ready to give it a go and transform YOUR community?
Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
We will offer you every assistance and answer any questions you may have. We can put you in touch with our contacts in the food donation programs and provide you with a banner for display at your pop-up.
From our side all we want is for your pop-up to join forces with us and be called ‘The BASIC Community Pop-Up’. This gives us a little publicity and also produces uniformity.
We already have our own in Felixstowe, another opens in London during October – more are coming in Ipswich and Northern Ireland and the enquiries are coming in daily.
Let’s start a new thing in the UK.
Let’s give people back their dignity, create community and work together for a better future.
Mail us now and let’s do this thing people!
The BASIC Life Charity