Colchester Foodbank is not only the busiest foodbank in Essex, but it was also the busiest in the East of England last year – and demand is still rising.
Colchester Foodbank was established in 2008 and open to the public in 2009 with it’s ‘raison d’etre’ being to prevent people in the community from suffering.
In 2021, Colchester Foodbank helped 16,500 people and while initially, the single largest group of people going to the food bank was single males, families numbered more, by 2021, 43% of visitors were children.
Mike Beckett initially joined as a volunteer but when the manager retired, Mike was asked to act up into her role.
“I was given three KPIs: To make less of a loss, to get more local media coverage and to make plans for a satellite foodbank. By December 2017, the satellite foodbanks were set up, we were making a surplus, which was not expected, and I had managed to get us media coverage in the national press,” said Mike, who was consequently made Chief Executive.
The Head Office is in Tollgate and there are three sites in Wivenhoe, Tiptree and Brightlingsea as well as seven sites overall in the city of Colchester.
There are 250 volunteers which help the operation run smoothly and 95% of the donations to the food bank are made from the general public.
“During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, larger organisations such as Tesco’s would provide us with donations, but now they mainly come from the public,” explains Mike.
To ensure the public know about the foodbank and to know where to donate items to, Mike has been busy growing the foodbank’s social media standing to the point where it became the most like Facebook page for a foodbank in the British Isles.
Social media also enables the foodbank to let people struggling know that they are there to help, although there are 265 organisations such as schools, social work, GP surgeries and charities such as Citizen’s Advice who can refer people to the foodbank.
However, Mike has been tracking figures over the last three months and on aggregate supply has been down by 12% due in part to the war in Ukraine while demand has been up by 12% as the cost of living crisis starts to kick in.
“If we don’t do something, I don’t know who else will?” said Mike. “If we have a harsh winter and if fuel prices go up further in October as is expected then demand will rise further.”
“We’d love the Chancellor to pull a large rabbit out of his hat but we know that if the government makes an effort it will make our lives easier, whereas if they don’t, it will make our jobs tougher. It could be either,” added Mike.
As a result, the team at Colchester Food Bank is “fixing the roof while the sun is shining” over the summer to prepare for what could be a tough winter ahead.
“We are spending the summer building capacity to get things in place, getting drivers trained and getting volunteers trained for the influx that could appear in the winter.
“We are doing what we can do now, and this preparation should mean that if the issues become long-term, then we can keep going and defend our position so that people don’t have to suffer which is our main raison d’etre,” concluded Mike.
Lucy Hopkins, Head of Practice at WillisPalmer, said: “Foodbanks are an invaluable part of our communities, providing essentials to people and families who are struggling to make ends meet. The challenges related to people’s financial situations were exacerbated during the Covid-19 pandemic and furthermore with the rise in daily living costs – petrol, food, electricity, gas. When people’s basic needs are not met, this can create problems in other areas of their lives and when people are struggling to cope with day-to-day living, worrying about feeding and housing themselves and their families, they turn to other ways of coping, some of which might be in relation to alcohol or substance misuse, and the stress and worry can lead to mental health problems or exacerbate already existing problems.
An increasing number of people are therefore reliant on community services to support them and assist them with being able to meet their basic needs, therefore it is so important that we continue to support foodbanks so that they are equipped to continue their great work in supporting others.”
Diane Wills is Consultant Social Worker at WillisPalmer, responsible for quality assuring the forensic risk assessment reports.
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