Food banks: Are we too posh to queue?

Rob Young

We go behind the scenes of food bank charity, Nourish, which saves the blushes of its Tunbridge Wells clientele who have fallen on desperate times – by delivering emergency parcels door to door.

How does a food bank operate in an area such as Tunbridge Wells and yet maintain the dignity of its clients?

Innovative charity Nourish has come up with a solution.

Instead of people queuing outside a food bank, the charity’s volunteers deliver to the doors of those in need.

Volunteer chairman Olga Johnson believes it is one of the few food banks in the UK offering this service, but she believes the stigma attached to food bank use is a constant.

She said: “People are embarrassed about using them.

“We operate doorstep delivery rather than asking people to pick up their food, thus enabling us to ensure confidentiality, instead of the embarrassment of queuing.

“It’s a very sensitive issue. There’s a fine line between those who need food bags and those who don’t.”

And although Mrs Johnson believes Tunbridge Wells’ level of deprivation is comparable to that of other towns, it is less obvious.

She said: “One of the estates in town has been named the most deprived area in Kent. A lot of affluent people in Tunbridge Wells have no idea there is this sort of deprivation.”

But the area’s affluence, and ‘being a royal spa town’ can make it harder for people to admit they need help, she says.

Mrs Johnson believes it is the lack of awareness, an increase in users and regular donors being away during the summer which have led to a funding shortfall at Nourish.

She said: “Once people realise what we do and are aware of the situation, they’re usually highly supportive.

“But we’ve had to dip into reserves the summer as donations have dried up and demand increased as children are on school holidays.”

All Nourish recipients have been referred by social services, other government organisations or housing groups, to ensure they are eligible.

The charity is backed by local companies, including the borough council, the Skinners Company and Sainsbury’s.

And although donations should now pick up, Mrs Johnson believes the situation could deteriorate.

She said: “The best thing would be if nobody needed a food bank, but I just don’t see that happening in the near future.”

A spokesman for the Trussell Trust, the UK’s largest food bank network, said the system of delivery was ‘almost unique’ in Britain.

He added: “It’s an interesting system and certainly one way of addressing more affluent towns such as Tunbridge Wells.

“We have anecdotal evidence of food bank users in areas like Ascot driving to the next town as they do not want their neighbours to see them using our services.

“In this sort of place, given the circumstances many recipients may have been used to, it is understandable there may be some reluctance to be seen going to a food bank.”

Ukip county councillor Chris Hoare, who represents Sherwood, said: “The gap between rich and poor has become wider.

“Perhaps it is common sense to deliver the food or maybe it gets over people’s embarrassment, retains their dignity.”

A spokesman for Town & Country added: “As a principal funder, Town & Country Foundation helped established Nourish knowing there was demand for people hit by benefit cuts or unemployment.

“It allows us to work with Nourish to help identify people who may need additional support.”

Anyone wishing to make a food donation, or who could volunteer as a driver, can call Dawn Stanford on 07730 412978.

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