By Bradley Stead
Over the last decade, food bank usage has dramatically increased. The number of people using food banks rose from 41,000 in 2010, to 1.2 million in 2018. This is an ongoing national crisis affecting a growing number of people.
To find out more about this situation in Huddersfield, KLTV spoke to Mike Bristow, Centre Manager for the Welcome Centre Food Bank.
“I’ve been in role as Centre Manager for just over 3 months, but prior to that I was well aware of the Welcome Centre and the work they’re doing in and around Huddersfield.”
“Unfortunately, this place really shouldn’t exist, but while we do exist we’re here to support the clients that really do need us.”
“It’s a fantastic service, and coming into a managerial role it’s really opened my eyes to just how bad the situation is within Huddersfield, within Kirklees but also across the UK.”
Between September 2018 and August 2019, the Welcome Centre handed out over 9,000 food parcels, equating to 240,000 meals. They also handed out a total of 14,000 crisis packs to clients in need.
“We are ensuring that we are providing clients with enough, nutritional food to last 7 days.”
“We provide toiletries, bedding, home starter kits which is pans, plates, pots, things like that.”
“We operate in a different way to other food banks, so we support a client for as long as they are in crisis and for those that are relying on our support in the longer term.”
For Mike it was a “no brainer” to take on this role, working with vulnerable people and providing them with the support that they need.
“I really wanted to work in an environment where I can see the difference that I was making and unfortunately I don’t think there’s any better place to do that than in a food bank where we are engaging with clients daily.”
“To be able to work in an environment where we can offer that front-line support to vulnerable people is a really rewarding role to be in.”
This isn’t without it’s challenges however,
“For some of the clients that we get coming into us it’s difficult not to be touched by their story in quite an emotional way.”
“When we get referrals coming in and we hear the referrals telling the story of just why that client is in need sometimes you do just have to take a breath and think ‘wow’.”
“These people are unfortunately not been given a chance and they’re being let down massively by the system for whatever reason, and especially when they come to reception it’s hard sometimes not to be touched.”
There is no single stereotype for whom can use a food bank, which is why the Welcome Centre are focussed on each individual client.
“We very much live by the motto that everything we do is for the Client. We have the Client’s best interests at heart because many are vulnerable, quite ashamed sometimes of coming to the food bank.”
“It can be quite a degrading experience for them. We don’t want people to leave here feeling below society, we want them to leave here feeling happy, supported, and make them feel welcome above all else.”
“We are the Welcome Centre, we want to welcome anyone and everyone who needs us regardless of their background, their issues, whatever they’ve got going on we don’t pass judgement on that.”
December is one of the busiest months for food banks across the country, and this is no different for the Welcome Centre.
“It’s a financially taxing time for some families who want to be able to provide gifts and make the most of Christmas.”
“We know the financial burden that has on people, so what we try and do to help families is provide them with a secondary seasonal pack, in addition to their normal food pack.”
“Last year we gave out 285 festive packs, this year we’re forecasting to give out 320 and the types of items that go into that are all the trimmings you’d expect for Christmas dinner, so pre-frozen chicken breasts, vegetables, potatoes, stuffing, gravy mix, a Christmas pudding type item as well as mince pies, biscuits, selection boxes, items like that.”
There are many ways that people can help and support the Welcome Centre. During December, there is a ‘50p Pot Appeal’ where if people can fill a small film canister with 50 pence coins the money in that canister equates to the cost of providing a family with a seasonal pack.
Also, people can take part in a ‘reverse advent calendar’,
“Rather than people taking items out of an advent calendar we ask them to put in an item a day, which they can then drop off here at the Welcome Centre.”
People can fill shoe boxes with items which are used throughout the year, as well as donating vegetables, tinned meats, steamed puddings as well as other items.
There are many reasons why someone may need to use a food bank. More recently, data suggests a major factor contributing to this has been the roll out of Universal Credit.
A 5 week wait before receiving a first payment means more and more people are struggling to provide food and other essentials for themselves and their families. This is something that the Welcome Centre has found too.
“There is a correlation between the introduction of Universal Credit and the use of food banks”, said Mike.
In April 2019, Former Secretary of State for Work & Pensions, Amber Rudd, stated that Universal Credit was “absolutely not” sending people to food banks.
Increasing numbers of people are finding themselves in need of a food bank. In the short term, it is up to places like the Welcome Centre to help those people. It is up to those of us who aren’t in crisis to make sure that food banks have the resources they need to help those in crisis, and ensure they aren’t left behind by society.
For more information on the Welcome Centre and how to donate visit: www.thewelcomecentre.org