LAST week, Nourish Community Foodbank published its Annual Review for the financial year 2022-2023, which highlighted a sharp increase in referral numbers, meaning it was the charity’s busiest year ever.
The local charity, which operates from a unit on the Tunbridge Wells North Farm Industrial Estate, has clients referred to it by over 200 frontline agencies and professionals across the local area.
As a result, 158,891 meals were delivered across the year with the charity supporting 17,099 people in crisis in the Borough of Tunbridge Wells, South Tonbridge and the surrounding areas – an increase of 31 per cent on the previous year.
Furthermore, Nourish stepped in to address a new problem, fuel poverty, caused by the energy price crisis. Initially they distributed government-funded fuel vouchers but when the government money ran out, they bought more fuel vouchers using their own financial reserves.
However, the charity experienced further outgoings due to experiencing a huge drop in food donations. There was a 63 per cent increase in expenditure on food across 2022-23 – a total cost of over £105,000 on food purchases – to keep up with growing demand in the local community.
The charity’s 2022-23 annual review highlighted a rather concerning pattern in referrals, with an average 25 per cent year-on-year growth in client numbers over the past five years. The number of people served in 2022-23 even exceeded the high numbers reached during the pandemic in 2020-21.
While the reasons for referral varied, the biggest causes were due to benefit changes (26 per cent of clients) and relationship breakdowns (including domestic abuse) which made up 22.8 per cent of referrals.
Sue Smith, Chair of Trustees at Nourish, said: “We are so very grateful to our community, who stepped up to support the continued increase in need for our services and we could not have made it through the year without you.
“It saddens us that we are still seeing such a significant increase in the need for foodbank services year on year, and now we are finding our resources are critically stretched. Less food is being donated and so we have had to draw on our reserves to cover the extra food costs.
“It is a great pity, when clients are telling us they have to choose between heating or eating, that, until funds allow, we have, temporarily, had to put a pause on our energy payment scheme.”