Cambridge City Foodbank can only operate due to the support of our centre hosts, including a range of churches across Cambridge. This month, we spoke with David Maher, the Vicar of Church of the Good Shepherd, one of our longest-standing host centres, about the importance of partnerships, the ups and downs of the pandemic and plans for the future.
How long have you been running the foodbank centre at Church of Good Shepherd?
We started running the foodbank centre at Church of Good Shepherd around 10 years ago. This was very early days for Cambridge City Foodbank and I think at this time it was just us, C3, St Paul’s Church and the OLEM church running distribution centres.
How did the partnership come about?
As a church, we wanted to do something more to support those in need in our local community; we don’t have a lot of resources in terms of people or funds, but we do have a great big space available for use.
We recognised that food poverty was a big issue in our community, however we didn’t want to reinvent the wheel if a solution was already out there. We’re firm believers in the strength of partnerships for helping people in need and are always keen to work together with others to share expertise and resources. The Cambridge City Foodbank team approached us as they were looking for a centre to serve the north of the city, so it seemed like a perfect match.
Please tell us a little about the community which Church of Good Shepherd serves?
For those unaware, Church of Good Shepherd is located on Mansel Way in Arbury. Arbury is very densely populated and our parish serves around 17,000-19,000 people. There is a vast amount of deprivation in our area and a lot of families struggling, but something the rest of the county sometimes doesn’t understand is the powerful sense of community in Arbury – many residents have lived here all their lives – and people really do look out for one another. So, there is a great need, but also lots of people who are willing to help, which lends itself well to the Foodbank approach.
What have been the highlights of facilitating a Foodbank centre in the church?
Right from the very start, my colleagues and I have taken great joy and pride in being able to welcome visitors as they enter the church centre, offering them a tea or coffee and a biscuit and helping them to feel comfortable. People often feel so embarrassed using the Foodbank but we work hard to ease their nerves and give them someone to talk to. This opportunity to have a conversation with people in our community, and feel that we can practically help them in some way, has always been, and continues to be, the highlight for us.
And the key challenges?
While we were enormously grateful and relieved that we could still operate in some way during the pandemic, we lost the conversation and the opportunity to provide a greater level of support – beyond food parcels – to our local community. It was also heart breaking at the beginning of the pandemic to have to tell half a dozen of our volunteers, who were perfectly fit and healthy, but over 70, that they could no longer volunteer as they needed to shield.
Despite the challenges of the pandemic, I do believe Cambridge, as a community, responded well and this is thanks to the partnerships in place across organisations in the city. We knew exactly who to call on when the crisis struck and everyone came together really well to support one another.
Is there anything you’d like to do in future to expand your partnership with the foodbank in order to better support the Cambridge community?
Very excitingly, our church is currently building a new ‘Charitable Hub’ which we intend to offer as office and meeting space for local charities. The new space will also enable us to expand our Foodbank offering, as it will not only give us more space to store food, but it will better facilitate signposting too. When we run our foodbank sessions, we’d like to invite local organisations, like Citizen’s Advice, the Job Centre and Anglia Water, to come and speak to visitors, creating a hub for people to find information and get help. Due to the nature of people’s problems, booking an appointment in advance, that they then need to travel to, isn’t always practical. If they can just pop in while they are already at the Foodbank, they are much more likely to get the help they need.
Do you run any similar initiatives like the Foodbank in the church?
During the pandemic we set up a food hub in the church. This worked well to complement our Foodbank offering – while it was sometimes more difficult for our visitors to access vouchers due to agencies being closed, it was great they were able to visit the food hub to get a few items, and then, when we identified people with a greater level of need, we could issue them a voucher as members of the church.
We also run a holiday lunches programme in partnership with Cambridge Sustainable Food and Kettle’s Yard, providing hot meals to families during the school holidays. This is a great initiative, as it’s all tied in with reducing waste too.
Is there anything else you would like to share about working with the Foodbank?
We are very proud to be part of Cambridge City Foodbank and the Trussell Trust network more widely. The way the system is run works very well and we are grateful for all of the support we get that enables us to better serve our community.