As 2018 draws to a close I find myself, coffee in hand, thinking of the events that defined the West Bromwich Food Bank during that period. We had the usual mix of misery and disappointment, occasionally interspersed with moments of humour. Our clients are the reason we do what we do. Their lives touch ours and often leaves us with feelings of anger that they are in the situation they are. It is a well-worn cliché, but in one of the world’s richest economies it is, frankly disgusting that so many people are living in poverty and have no idea where their next meal is coming from.
We have sat chatting to our clients and very often the choice is to eat or heat their home. We are forever being asked for financial support by our clients, so that they can top up their gas/electric credit. It is heartrending for us when we have to say no and signpost them to another agency that has the right connections and may be able to support them.
We work with a fantastic agency Black Country Womens Aid who actively support victims of domestic abuse and who will many times over the year ask for our support as they move victims and very often their young children to a place of safety.
Officialdom has featured heavily in the year. We have lost count of the number of times that clients are desperate because of government policy especially in relation to Universal Credit (UC). We now have a special category ‘universal credit delay’ to reflect in our statistics how people are caught in the UC trap. We fully expect this category to be well used in the coming year. When a person moves on to UC it can take up to five weeks but so often takes longer. This has the potential of placing a client in a position where they are in debt. The country desperately needs an overhaul of UC but presently, the government appear to be ignoring the issue.
During the year we had to close our drop in centre temporarily due to anti-social behaviour by a small minority of our visitors which could have put other visitors and our volunteers at risk. We hope to reopen this valuable resource early in the New Year.
Some clients bring their children with them, and even after eleven years of the food bank it still tugs at our heart strings to see their faces light up when they see the food come out.
As I said earlier, we do have moments of humour. I am reminded of the guy who came in for the first time. We had a brief chat, we gave him his food and he was amazed at what we gave him. He said that he wanted to give something back when he could. As I said to him, there’s no need, he said I am going to win the lottery next Friday and I will bring in one million pounds! Let’s see what happens I replied. He then said, I did it last week and never got one number right! (Oh well, easy come easy go!)
As we enter 2019, there is one thing I am sure of. We will see more misery, anger and bad decision making. Over the years I have stated that it is my intention to close the food bank because it will not be needed. I am, however, pragmatic and realise that, (barring a large miracle) it will not happen in 2019!
The team and I have been at times, totally gobsmacked by the generosity of West Bromwich residents, churches and local businesses. The donations have been regular and at times totally unexpected! During the run up to Christmas due to the support of our friends at the West Bromwich Town Bid the appeal for donations went town wide, with three drop off points around the town. This resulted in a healthy amount of food, plus donations of toys and gifts which were passed on to Black Country Womens Aid for distribution.
We reopen the food bank on Wednesday 2nd January 2019 following our Christmas break, and expect to hit the ground running as we begin a new season of support and encouragement.
My personal wish list for the food bank for 2019 is:
- Less misery and despair for those forced to use a food bank
- More compassion from our government in their dealings with those in crisis
- To be able to scale down our operations or to close altogether as we are no longer needed
These wishes are achievable, it only needs commitment and compassion from those responsible for government policy and the same compassion and commitment from those responsible for implementing the policy.
As we enter 2019, I would like to express my appreciation of our partner agencies and the great work they do in supporting the most vulnerable in our community. May your funding be regular and guaranteed and may you continue to make a difference in the lives of so many.
And finally, (for now) a word or two of thanks to the team of volunteers who ensure that the food bank is able to maintain its work. Thank you, we could not do what we do without you. You are all helping to make a difference, rest assured, you are all valued and appreciated.
For statistical purposes the food bank keeps a record of usage. For this purpose we use the year beginning April 1 to March 31. This year has just ended and the totals are in! It’s another year of the same old same old.
During the period in question we have fed a total of 3616 people, (2451 adults and 1165 children under the age of 16). In terms of performance we have succeeded in our stated aim of supporting our local community and the wider area of Sandwell! We have achieved this thanks to the generosity of individuals, churches, local business and Sandwell Council who, over the year, have all supported the work we do. West Bromwich Community Church has, as always, supported us by allowing the church to be open three afternoons per week and to be used as a drop in centre.
We received 1799 referrals from partner agencies and each referral stated the main reason for needing support. Although March 2018 was a low month in terms of referrals/numbers fed the reasons were:
- 3 x benefit changes
- 16 x benefit delays
- 5 x benefit sanctions
- 4 x debt
- 2 x domestic abuse
- 21 x DWP referrals (The job centre do not give a specific reason for referring clients but they are all to do with benefit issues)
- 27 x financial hardship
- 5 x homeless
- 20 x low income
- 11 x nil income
- 3 x other (This category is used when the reasons given do not fit a specific reason)
- 15 x unemployed
- 2 x universal credit delays (This category was introduced as universal credit is beginning to affect residents of Sandwell, although it is not due to be rolled out fully until November 2018)
So, in these figures, we have another year of misery and despair. 3616 people who would have gone hungry. 3616 people who, if you sat down and really talked to them you would discover many underlying issues which led to the lack of finance. Then you come to the question of what do your clients deal with first, the food issue, the health issue? It’s not just an issue of people being hungry and unable to afford food.
3616 people going hungry in Sandwell and that’s just the ones we see at our food bank, and we are not the busiest. There are at least four other food banks in Sandwell! Replicate those figures across the country at the estimated 800+ food banks and you are suddenly into big figures running into the hundreds of thousands. We are now into the 21st century, in one of the richest countries in the world and we still have not eradicated poverty and its root causes. It’s not good enough!
It was a real pleasure yesterday to welcome young volunteers from the Media Club (part of the Lyng Community Association – LCA) to work in our food bank. From the time they came they worked hard, weighing, sorting, stacking and packing food parcels. During the afternoon, they helped to support 37 residents in the local community who were in crisis and could not afford to feed themselves or their families.
They were a credit to the Media Club and Rachel Jennings, Development Worker at the LCA. We are looking forward to seeing them again on Friday when they return for another shift!
It was a privilege today to host a group of students from Sandwell College as part of their life skills and practical experience training. A group of four arrived just before 12.00 and spent 90 minutes working really hard. They unpacked and sorted food onto the shelves and packed bags for clients as they arrived.
Their enthusiasm was great to see and our own volunteers were impressed with their work so much, they invited them to come back any time they wanted!
We work with many groups across Sandwell, providing volunteer experience and we are always amazed at the enthusiasm that the various groups bring with them. It is a pleasure to work with them and also to chat with them and find out more about them.
If you work with groups and would like to visit the food bank, please use our contact page to get in touch>We look forward to hearing from you.
It is a very sad fact of life that today, in 2018, people are being held against their will and being treated as slaves. Even in West Bromwich, there is a big problem. Within a mile of our food bank there have been 95 cases identified!
How do we identify slavery and what can we do about it? The following list tells us what to look out for and includes what to do if we suspect there is a problem.
- several unrelated adults living at a single address
- people being regularly collected very early in the morning and/or returned late at night
- signs of injury, malnourishment and a general untidy appearance
- people being isolated from the rest of the community
- people who live and work at the same address in poor conditions
- women being kept in houses where there are large numbers of male visitors
- people who don’t know their address
- people who cannot produce their documents
- people who often seem anxious and fearful, especially in the presence of a ‘friend’ or
- interpreter who appears to be controlling them and their answers
The official advice is, if you see something suspicious, no matter how small, please call
THE POLICE ON 101
The UK MODERN SLAVERY HELP LINE ON on 08000 121 700
Or call CRIMESTOPPERS anonymously on 0800 555 111.
A source of good advice is HOPE FOR JUSTICE who can be contacted via their website
The WEST MIDLANDS ANTI SLAVERY NETWORK are also a great source of advice. Click website for more information.
Modern day slavery is an emotive issue and not pleasant to deal with, but just maybe you or I could be part of the solution! Please do not pass by on the other side and ignore it.