JUST a month remains to save Gloucester Foodbank from the threat of closure.
The vital service may have handed out 21,000 food parcels to Gloucester’s most vulnerable families since it opened in 2005 but now it is the one on the breadline.
It must find a new home by April as the tenant it sub-lets from is relocating and the group cannot afford the £72,000-per-year rent for the whole building in Kingsholm.
Anneliese Sterry, manager at the foodbank, said: “We don’t have a back up plan, this is it. We have to find a new home and quickly but so far we have had no luck.
“There are almost 100 organisations that use our food vouchers and they all tell us that it is a vital service.
“We need to be in good walking distance from the bus station because so many of our clients only have enough money for the one bus journey. We’ve even had people walking from as far as Hardwicke, and then walking back again with heavy food parcels.
“We also need a minimum of 2,000 sq ft because we are sending out some three tonnes of food each month and at any one time we might have 20 or 30 people waiting.”
But the search is not going to be an easy one – the foodbank currently forks out £650-per-month in rent and cannot afford to pay much more.
They also want to find premises that have some car parking for their team of volunteers, toilet facilities and an office space.
Anneliese added: “Now we are just hoping that someone will come along and help to keep us going. It doesn’t have to look like the Hilton but we do need somewhere central.
Gloucester mayor Chris Chatterton, who heard about the foodbank’s plight on a visit to the centre on Tuesday, said: “They are helping the most vulnerable people in the city. They need a new home and they also need the space to deliver the services they are providing.
“They are incredibly important to the city.”
The foodbank has in the past 12 months helped 4,500 people, including 1,600 under 16s. It has seen a sharp rise in the number of people being referred to the group.
Foodbank volunteer Sophy Gardner, Labour’s parliamentary candidate for Gloucester, said: “I’ve worked in a foodbank and visited Anneliese and the team at Gloucester Foodbank so I know what vital work they do.
“It is shocking to meet people in desperate straits because they’ve been ill while in a zero hours contract job and can’t buy food, or people who have had their benefits stopped because they’ve been in hospital and are being reassessed. These sorts of crises are where the foodbank steps in.
“We shouldn’t need foodbanks in the sixth richest country in the world, but right now we do and we need to support Gloucester Foodbank.”
City MP Richard Graham said he had visited the foodbank six years ago and that he recognised they played ‘an important role’, but he warned that the group could have ‘better prepared’ for this eventuality. He added: “They have yet to approach me to ask for my help, but my door is open for them.”
SCALE OF THE FOODBANK'S EFFORTS
Three tonnes of food are being handed out by the Gloucester Foodbank every month to the city’s most vulnerable residents.
The foodbank has helped 4,500 people in the past year, and of those, 1,600 were under the age of 16.
It even has special food parcels for people who live with no electricity or means to heat up food.
It is the shocking reality of the people living below the poverty line in Gloucester. Many of the clients are people who are unemployed, recently made redundant or have fallen ill but work on a zero-hours contract.
Some of the centre’s clients are regulars, while others have had one handout and never returned.
Canon Liam Slattery, from St Peter’s Church in London Road, has a box at the back of his church where people regularly donate food. He has previously said that he was ‘not surprised’ that the numbers of people using foodbanks has gone up.
He said: “I think the foodbank highlights the difficult situation the country is in. I think more people are struggling in this country than anyone actually realises.”
A recent Labour motion in Westminster calling for the government to reduce people’s dependency on foodbanks was shot down by a majority of Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs. It had been brought to parliament after an online petition raised more than 140,000 signatures.
Anyone who needs the help of Gloucester Foodbank or can offer donations or a helping hand, can get in touch by calling them on 01452 309683 or e-mailing them at firstname.lastname@example.org. They can also be visited at George Whitfield Centre, at 107 Great Western Road.
For more information on what they do visit their website at gloucester.foodbank.org.uk
WHAT THE FOODBANK NEEDS
Securing the future of Gloucester Foodbank has to start with finding a new home for the service.
But the foodbank has a big challenge on its hands. It needs a location within walking distance of the bus station and the floor space needs to be a minimum of 2,000 sq ft.
The group currently pays £650-per-month in rent – and cannot afford to pay much more, which limits their options when it comes to city centre locations.
They are also looking for a property that has toilet facilities, a good reception area and an office space.
Gloucester City Council recently announced that it had produced a list of 65 empty retail units in the city centre in a bid to get them filled, but it is unclear if any of them are suitable.
Anneliese Sterry, manager of Gloucester Foodbank, said: “We worked with the city council to see if they could help us find somewhere but nothing has been found as a result of that yet.”
The group has until April when the lease on the current property ends. They are currently negotiating with the landlord in the hope that they can stay for a while longer until he finds a new tenant for the property – but they admit they don’t know much more time that would buy them.