Cambourne Distribution Centre is supported by a dedicated team of volunteers comprised from Cambourne Church and the local community.
We spoke to Julie Whitbread, the Centre Manager at Cambourne Distribution Centre, to find out more about the centre, the services it provides to the Cambourne community, and its plans for the future.
How long has Cambourne been running the distribution centre and what inspired you to get involved?
We first opened Cambourne Distribution Centre in February 2014 – and I can’t believe it’s already been eight years. Initially, Cambourne Church had thought about setting up a foodbank in Cambourne as we felt there was a high need in the local area but, after speaking to Cambridge City Foodbank, we partnered with them as the joint-approach seemed like a good fit. This is because Cambridge City Foodbank wanted to achieve the same thing as us – embed sustainable solutions to address poverty in the area – and set up a service outside of the city centre.
I actually live in Cambourne so I know there’s a lot of hidden poverty in the town and the surrounding villages are quite isolated. Knowing the extent of the problem inspired me to get involved and it’s been great to be able to make a positive difference to people’s lives.
Can you tell us a little about the community that the Cambourne Distribution Centre serves?
Cambourne is a fairly diverse area compared with the rest of South Cambridgeshire. We have lots of very affluent families but, equally, there are lots of people who are on or below the poverty line. For example, we have four schools in Cambourne and I know that each has students from families that are struggling to pay their food bills.
This divide in the community can also make identifying and reaching people challenging, especially if they’re not involved in the school system. For example, our local GP can issue foodbank vouchers, but with more and more appointments being moved online, it can be harder to detect people who need the service.
What has been a highlight of working at the Cambourne Distribution Centre?
For me, there is no one moment – it’s a combination of lots of things. Firstly, working with such a dedicated team of volunteers who go above and beyond is so inspiring. When we started Cambourne Distribution Centre, we were amazed by all the people who came forward to help support the service and still do, to this day.
Also, it is the fact that we make a real difference to people’s lives. Hearing our visitors’ stories and interacting with them brings us all closer together – and is something I will always remember.
And what are the biggest challenges?
One of the biggest challenges I face is wanting to wave a magic wand and, all of a sudden, make a visitor’s life better – but of course, that isn’t possible. We do all we can here at Cambourne, but we would love to be able to do more. For example, supporting people with the energy and fuel crisis is something that we have spoken about doing previously. We can signpost visitors to one or two places in Cambridge for fuel vouchers but we just don’t have the resources to be able to top up clients’ fuel from Cambourne at this point.
What do the next five years look like for the Cambourne distribution centre? Do you have any future plans?
One of the things we have recently started at Cambourne Church is a coffee morning called ‘Openhouse’ to coincide with and supplement the foodbank sessions. They are held at the same time as the foodbank sessions, are coordinated by Cambourne Parish Nurse group, and are a place where our visitors can come together and access additional support. Currently, we have individuals and organisations attending alongside the Cambourne Parish Nurse group that can provide money, benefit and debt advice. In the future, we would love to expand and invite more organisations along to give further information and guidance.