The Stability of Instability: A Reflection on Developments at West Cheshire Foodbank By: Emma Greenwood and Holly White, West Cheshire Foodbank, a Trussell Trust Foodbank and part of the Feeding Britain pilot in Cheshire West and Chester Published: 4th May 2018 Last week the Trussell Trust reported a 13% increase in the distribution of emergency food through their network. Interestingly, for the first time since we started, our end of year stats show ‘stability’ in the number of people supported. In 2017/18 we provided 7615 three days of emergency food supplies to local people, compared with 7684 the previous year. However, this stability reflects a chronic crisis of instability in the lives of those we meet through our work. “Through our work capturing the voices and stories of people who approach us for help, our volunteer research team have seen a striking development in narratives we collect which align with the Trussell Trust report on Universal Credit: Universal Credit is leaving people unable to afford the cost of essentials, including food, and in chronic food poverty.” People’s stories reflect the national picture of many people harmed by the impact of Universal credit. Things don’t feel very ‘stable’ to us. Through our work capturing the voices and stories of people who approach us for help, our volunteer research team have seen a striking development in narratives we collect which align with the Trussell Trust report on Universal Credit: Universal Credit is leaving people unable to afford the cost of essentials, including food, and are faced with chronic food poverty. Individuals are experiencing long delays before receiving payments leading to debt and food poverty. When payments are eventually made they are too low to support living costs resulting in a need for food support. Individuals find forms complex and consequently difficult to complete. Julie describes the application process as “confusing” and despite being “absolutely starving” because she had no food over the weekend and consequently had to visit her GP, she states that the application process makes her feel as though she may as well not bother applying. Karen failed a work capability assessment because she was having a “good day”, so her ESA was stopped after 25 years of support. Following a lengthy application process, she now receives Universal Credit but will struggle to pay rent arrears accumulated in the process. In 2012, West Cheshire Foodbank was founded as a response to those experiencing acute food crisis. Five and a half years on, with policies continuing to reinforce rather than address food poverty, we are having to adapt the way we operate and respond to a chronic crisis of food poverty. With funding secured through Feeding Britain in partnership with Citizens Advice, our focus is now on developing and establishing ‘Meeting Places’ alongside the provision of emergency food, and using the resources and influence we have to support community approaches to long term food poverty. We have been able to employ a Community Development Worker for Ellesmere Port and Neston and a community adviser from Citizens Advice to work alongside her. ‘Meeting Places’ are places where people feel safe, are valued as equals, and can engage in a collective activity. They are delivered collaboratively with expert partners (eg. welfare rights, money and debt advice), and encourage lasting relationships cultivated through growing, cooking or eating food together. For example, we host a ‘Snack and Chat’ which runs alongside one of our food bank sessions - tea and toast is on offer, along with a listening ear. An advisor from Citizens Advice is on hand to help with any specific issues and the session is regularly attended by local support services. ‘Meet, Cook and Eat’ runs alongside another one of our food distribution sessions where people are invited to build communities by making and eating soup, bread and pizza in a sociable environment. A Citizens Advice worker attends these community events to offer support to participants. Increasingly, instead of simply signposting people to support, we are creating opportunities to empower people to navigate the system by both fostering communities that know what support is available, and bringing support to them. “Our local picture is positive: we are trying out new ideas and building relationships with people and organisations in our communities who are taking positive action to tackle food poverty. In all of this, we are nevertheless trying our best to make our food bank redundant.” We will continue as members of a national network campaigning for change, and intend to promote the message that we should not exist. Our local picture is positive: we are trying out new ideas and building relationships with people and organisations in our communities who are taking positive action to tackle food poverty. In all of this, we are nevertheless trying our best to make our food bank redundant. * Please note that names have been changed in the above narratives. For more information please email the West Cheshire Foodbank Research and Advisory Group at [email protected] To learn more about the Feeding Britain pilot in Cheshire West and to support their work please visit their page here.