In June we opened our new centre in Northstowe to provide greater support to individuals and families in this area of Cambridgeshire. We spoke to Ilse and Makepeace, who have both volunteered at Northstowe since its opening, about what’s changed over the past three months and what they see coming next.
What has it been like volunteering in a new Foodbank centre from its inception, and what has the reception been like?
Ilse: It feels fulfilling to be part of the team setting up a new centre and being able to support the community. As Northstowe is a growing community with a wide diversity of residents we have been getting nothing but positive feedback from all. Every week we are gaining more visibility, which is key to ensuring that the people who need help know we are there for them.
Makepeace: The reception to the centre has been very positive. It’s good to be able to meet needs; people are grateful for the amount of help we’re able to give them and are sometimes very moved by it. The Community Wing, where we operate, is extremely supportive and those local people who know about us generally want to help; we’ve had lots of donations of bread and fresh produce from people in Northstowe.
What has changed over the past few months?
Ilse: I’ve certainly noticed that more and more families are finding us now; we’re helping a growing number of people.
Makepeace: I agree. Although it’s difficult to make out a clear trend as the number of visitors to the centre fluctuates weekly, there does seem to be more people coming than there was to start with. I don’t know how much of that is additional need or how much is simply due to the fact that we’re now better known locally.
What are you looking forward to as the centre develops?
Makepeace: I am looking forward to being able to establish more links with other organisations that can provide help. We already work with Christians Against Poverty (CAP) and regularly signpost people to the organisation via its leaflets on debt counselling and other services, which we display at the Foodbank entrance. We also occasionally receive and display leaflets from other organisations but people who use our services generally have different needs and I’m looking forward to being able to direct everyone to the places where they can have those needs met.
Ilse: In addition to more signposting, with the centre growing, we are hoping to offer more fresh produce, ideally by working with local businesses.
What has been the highlight of your time volunteering so far?
Makepeace: It’s always lovely to see the expressions on people’s faces when we help them. Perhaps because the help they’ve received from the government previously has been so stingy, our visitors always seem surprised at how much we give them; they’re very grateful and relieved.
What has made you sad during your time volunteering at the Northstowe Foodbank?
Ilse: In our close team of volunteers, sometimes we need to say goodbye as people move on to new career ventures or other pathways. I always feel happy for them, but it’s sad to see them go!
Makepeace: It saddens me that there’s a need for foodbanks in this country to start with. We’re one of the richest countries in the world, and the government should be ensuring that everyone has enough to eat. Instead, they not only allow poverty to happen, but exacerbate it with measures such as benefit sanctions.
Where would you like to see the Northstowe centre in 12 months’ time?
Makepeace: I’d like it to be providing food and a gateway to other resources to everyone in the area who needs it. There’s always a question about whether everyone who needs help knows about where they can access it.
Ilse: This is always a conflicted feeling, ideally the Foodbank should not be needed anymore in 12 months but, realistically, it would be nice if we can still be supporting all the existing and new families that come by.
What advice would you give to someone using the Foodbank for the first time?
Makepeace: Don’t panic! We see you as people like us, and that’s how we’re going to treat you.
Ilse: We will always be here to help you and welcome you with a hot cup of tea or coffee.
What advice would you give to someone volunteering for the first time?
Ilse: For a first-time volunteer, things might be a bit overwhelming but don’t worry, you don’t need to know all the ins and outs after one day. Also, the good part is that there are different types of roles people can take up.
Makepeace: Once you’ve learnt all the ropes, bring something you can do while it’s quiet (I bring my knitting.) In between people coming in, as we’re a new centre, there will almost always be spells when nothing is happening. As long as whatever you’re doing can be quickly dropped when someone comes in and doesn’t distract you, it’s a help rather than a hindrance.