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THE FIGHT OF OUR LIVES: Local food banks battle to keep communities fed

keep food banks open liverpool

LIVERPOOL leads by example when it comes to fighting poverty in communities.

The solidarity shown through successful foodbank initiatives has kept some of the city’s most vulnerable fed during 10 years of government austerity.

But how are those battling food poverty coping now - in the grip of a global pandemic? Scottie Press has been finding out.

“EVERYTHING is drying up,” says Councillor Gerard Woodhouse, of County Ward’s L6 Centre. “Even our Just Giving page – no one is giving money now, and that’s our biggest issue.

We’ve got the resources out there to get the food from – but we haven’t got enough money to pay for it.

“We are getting 500 to 600 referrals every day, but we are only getting 300-400 food packs out.

And with all the self-isolating we can’t take on more volunteers, because everyone’s got to be two metres apart..” So they have had to move their operation into the church next door, to accommodate some extra support.

Cllr Woodhouse says their usual collection points across the city are now empty, with so many places deserted due to the lockdown.

“For a lot of people, food banks are the last thing on their minds,” he says. “They are having to look after number one, which is quite right.”

But although times are tough, the L6 Centre is still pushing forward, “We are also getting battered from schools, because they’ve got lots of people on their lists who are vulnerable. So they are a priority as well.

“It’s also tough on the kids who come to the youth club. So we’ve purchased a load of activity packs, and we’ve gone online and ordered school books which we are getting out alongside our other work with the schools.”

Gerard fears the soaring demands cannot be met through their own operations. So he has decided to start outsourcing to local businesses – some of which are at risk of closure themselves.

“The taxi drivers have been really good,” he tells us. “And we’re using companies like Relish – a restaurant in town – and, god help them, they are at risk of going under. So we’re taking them on to cook 600 soups and 500 meals a week for us, which we are getting out to pensioners.

“I still retain the optimism I’ve always had,” he says. “I think this city, more than any other, has had an optimistic outlook on most things. So, in a time of adversity, I don’t think I’d want to be anywhere else in the country rather than Liverpool - that make us what we are.” Dave Kelly

“We just can’t keep up with the demand from our own kitchen.”

“We’ve been trying to deliver the Echo, as well. A private sponsor has paid for 300 Echos a day which are delivered here each morning. The Morgan Foundation has also been really good to us as well – they’re giving us about £3,000 a week.”

The centre has also, recently, started receiving further support from local councillors’ funds and from Metro Mayor Steve Rotherham’s office.

Like many frontline workers, Gerard worries about keeping staff and volunteers safe – but he is struggling to find any comforting solutions, “We’ve had to buy all our own Personal Protection Equipment (PPE)” he says. “It’s like the blind leading the blind – we could be buying the wrong stuff. But we’ve been given nothing.

“Our staff and volunteers are so dedicated, I have had to really lay down the law that I will discipline my staff if they don’t keep to the guidelines.”

And the problems they are facing go far beyond supplying food and basic necessities. The scale of this crisis means people’s needs go far beyond what can be delivered in a parcel.

“We’ve got two people just on the phone lines, ringing older people every week just to make sure they are OK,” says Gerard. “We can then feed any concerns back to the housing associations.

“I’ve never seen so many mental health issues among older people. They are crying because they are so worried.

“It is unbelievable. We are having to act like qualified social workers. We are having to make decisions that we have never made in our lives. People are ringing me by the minute and asking me for medical advice – but I’m not a doctor. Everyone is worried. It is so wrong.”

As he is dealing with cases first hand, Gerard has personal knowledge of the full range of complications that people face, “One woman was sent home from hospital because she would be better off in her house,” he explains. “But that has meant two members of the family have taken the decision to look after her and are self isolating. So we are supplying food to them.

“Another case we had is really sad. The man is an alcoholic and he’s also got the virus. What do we do there? Do we supply him with ale each day? We had to make that decision and, yes, we are – two bottles of cider a day. We don’t have any guidelines telling us what you should and shouldn’t do. The thing is, we don’t want him leaving the house to buy it himself.”

keep food banks open liverpool

MP Ian Bryne, MP Dan Carden and Cllr Gerard Woodhouse in the L6 Centre foodbank

Dave Kelly is with Fans Supporting Foodbanks, which collects supplies on behalf of North Liverpool foodbanks. He talked to Scottie Press about his own experiences dealing with Covid-19. And, because his own health complications put him in a high risk category, he is housebound himself.

“I’ve had a couple of messages today off people in absolute dire needs,” Dave tells us.

“One lad is currently in self isolation and he’s just put in a request for Universal Credit. As of today he’s got no food, so he contacted us to see if we can help him out . He’s not due his universal credit for another fortnight. And it’s not just himself – it was him and his child.

“That’s the reality of what is currently going on.

“A lot of our activity involves us being outside of Anfield and Goodison on match days – 30% of the food donated into the North Liverpool Foodbank is collected outside the stadiums, which is an incredible amount of food.”

But football is in lockdown, too, leaving a 30% hole in their usual collections. And that means Dave and the team have a  “major problem” to fix. So they have set up a Just Giving page to try to fill the gap.

“And in the month since setting it up, £98,000 has been donated,” he says proudly. “That’s a massive pat on the back, and shows the respect and esteem that we’re held in by the wider community.

“There have been a number of substantial donations by people who shall remain nameless. But what makes it even more special to me is £60,000 of that money has been collected by ordinary fans throwing £5, £10 or £20 – which is remarkable.”

Dave and the team feel they have a “moral responsibility” in how they spend that money, and are determined to use it locally to support independent traders at risk of closure – like local Anfield bakery Homebaked, which they are using to supply freshly baked bread for their food parcels.

“We need to make sure, when we come out the other side of this, that businesses like Homebaked are still there and are still trading”

“So we are making sure we support those local businesses which have supported us in the past. We want to keep the money in the local community,”

The operation has significantly increased from what started out as three lads collecting outside football grounds and had expanded across several different locations. But they have now streamlined all the sites under one roof at Anfield Sports Centre, after Liverpool City Council closed the site during the pandemic.

“It’s now on an almost industrial scale.” Dave says.

The production line set up follows government guidelines, which allows them to process incoming and outgoing deliveries safely.

“One of the things that has been really difficult though, as things have moved on, is that more and more people are having to self isolate for various reasons, leaving the team short staffed at times

“We’re trying to carry on as normally as we can in extremely difficult and trying circumstances”

“But, as I’ve been saying for weeks, we are not looking for problems – we’re looking for solutions to problems.”

Dave explains that the strong relationships they have built with individuals, companies and the trade unions have created a really solid framework to enable them to offer support.

“Last week alone we got 33 pallets of food donated from food manufactures,” he tells us.

The storage unit continues to stockpile food, so the immediate future is accounted for. But Dave stresses that he is still worried about what is to come beyond that.

Food collection inside Anfield Sport Centre

“I think being furloughed is a much better option than people being made redundant and having to sign on and be reliant on universal credit – then waiting 5 or 6 weeks without income,” he says. “And you might be able to sustain yourself for a couple of weeks on 80% income.

“But you won’t be able to do that over a long period. And that is the real problem. The longer this goes on, the worse it is going to become.

“People are also talking about whether we will go into a recession – or even a full-blown depression. The future isn’t looking like a shiny one. There is a big heap of uncertainty.”

But despite all the current problems, Dave remains positive. “I still retain the optimism I’ve always had,” he says. “I think this city, more than any other, has had an optimistic outlook on most things. So, in a time of adversity, I don’t think I’d want to be anywhere else in the country rather than Liverpool – that make us what we are.”

Alongside food collection, Fans Supporting Foodbanks has also moved into manufacturing PPE and, as of Monday, scrubs for health and care workers.

Dave explains that one Fans Supporting Foodbanks member – Liverpool MP Ian Bryne – was contacted by a worker from North West Ambulance Service. He knew Ian from when they worked together for the Unite Union, and explained the problems they were having in supplying staff PPE.

“He basically said they had reached the stage where they had no visors, which meant they could potentially get caught out on a emergency call. Or someone could have had a heart attack – but they wouldn’t be able to perform CPR because they didn’t have appropriate PPE.” Dave says.

“We knew a few people who were producing their own visors and spoke to them. And, very quickly, a group came together.”

“There is a lad on the Wirral who I can only refer to as the Daily Sketcher. That’s his name on Twitter. He’s actually an architectural designer who’s been furloughed, so he’s got to protect his anonymity. He’s using his free time to print visors using 3D printers.

“We quickly cobbled together a rough design and started producing our own – we’ve already made more than 4000”

They’re also provided PPE for staff at The Royal Liverpool Hospital, the charity Marie Curie and a local initiative run by comedian Johnny Vegas, which delivers meals in St Helens.

“We’ve now potentially got the capability to produce 30,000 PPE visors a week,” says Dave. “The only reason we’re not doing that at the moment is cost.”

A separate fundraising page has launched under the banner PPE LLT – which is a collaboration between Fans Supporting Foodbanks and Lydiate Learning Trust

“It’s a broad coalition with lots of different groups which is actually top heavy with schools, “ says Dave. “Lots of schools have come on board, who use their ICT and Design Technology departments. There are also some colleges and universities as well.

“There is also a lad called Dave Coffey who owns two Costa Coffees. They have closed and furloughed staff. And they have also started volunteering to make PPE.”

“So anyone who needs a full face visor to function should get in touch – we’ll give them out for free”

“This is not only about NHS or other key workers. It is about anyone who is having to go out and work – and potentially compromise themselves and others.”


If you or anyone you know needs PPE, please visit: www.merseysideppehub.co.uk