We smile, offer a cuppa and have a wee chat: what’s it actually like inside a foodbank?

Isobel Graham explains the wide-ranging support Hamilton District Foodbank is able to offer to local people

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If you’ve caught any news over the past few years, you’ve probably heard a fair bit about the rise in foodbank use.

But it’s hard to imagine what a foodbank is actually like if you’ve never been inside one.

I run Hamilton District Foodbank. We work across Hamilton and Blantyre in South Lanarkshire, and have been giving emergency food to people referred to us since 2013 – in 2016-17 we provided 4,015 food supplies to local people. But like so many other foodbanks in The Trussell Trust’s network, we offer a lot more than emergency food.

We work hard to provide everyone referred with the best service possible – for example, we work with Tesco and food redistribution charity FareShare to offer fresh baked goods, fruit, veg and sometimes fresh eggs alongside our standard non-perishable food parcel where possible. We also have links with a local Uniform Bank, so we can refer families with school children to get help with school uniforms, and we’re able to offer extras like toiletries, pet food, baby items like nappies and baby food. We always have a ‘help yourself’ table in our centre and a box of period products so people can help themselves to some extra items.

This extra support isn’t limited to physical stuff.

A big part of what we do is offering advice about where to access help with the cause of the crisis. We invite people in to have a seat, a cuppa, some biscuits or maybe a cuppa soup, and we have a wee chat. Our volunteers talk to people about services available locally, like Citizens Advice, Money Matters, Community Links, Local Youth Clubs and the Scottish Welfare Fund. We have plenty of leaflets for people to take away and read, and once a week we have a staff member from Citizens Advice actually in the foodbank centre, offering advice and support to people right at the point when it’s most needed.

These links with local agencies and charities are really important to us because working together across the community means people at risk of hunger are linked into emergency support faster. Everyone who comes to our foodbank is referred by one of these local agencies, and we’re able to signpost people to agencies if they’re not already linked up. We also deliver emergency food boxes to The Salvation Army, Shelter, Women’s Aid and lots of other local groups so when we’re closed, people can still access emergency food and toiletries.

At the same time as making sure all this support is in place, we’re also determined to address the bigger issues and challenge the reasons why people struggle to afford food. We send a monthly report to local councillors and we engage constantly with our MP and MSP so they know the reality people are facing. We’ve been working with Scottish Power on a pilot to give a £49 credit voucher to people, helping ease the burden of high heating and energy costs, and with the support of our local MSP we’re excited to see how this will develop more widely – talks have already taken place with Npower.

The thing that underpins absolutely everything we do is ensuring everyone who comes to us is treated with dignity and respect.

No one should be unable to afford food and we know it can be hard to come to a foodbank. Our centre isn’t fancy but everyone says it’s welcoming, and that’s just how we want it to feel – we have a kids’ area with a small table and box of colouring books, and whenever someone comes into the foodbank we reassure them, we smile, we offer a cuppa and have a wee chat. And then we make sure there’s emergency food, extra items, additional support in the long term and we advocate with our local representatives.

We’ll continue to be here for people whilst we’re still needed, but at the same time we’ll continue to keep working towards our ultimate goal: seeing an end to the need for our foodbank in Hamilton and Blantyre.