Emily Lewney, Fairbite Volunteer

Every month, we speak to an individual whose work and dedication has made a difference to the Foodbank and the community who rely on its services.

This month, we spoke to Emily Lewney – a long-serving volunteer who initially started volunteering back in 2017. Now working at the Fairbite shop in Arbury Court, read on to hear Emily’s experience as a volunteer and what she has to say to anyone who is thinking of volunteering at the Foodbank.

What is your background prior to joining the Foodbank?

I’m originally from Massachusetts in the US, but my husband, Richard and I relocated to Botswana in Southern Africa after my husband had finished his master’s degree in the US. After leaving Botswana in 1988, we moved to England where my husband is from originally – we settled in Bar Hill, where I was the secretary for the local school for 18 years. Since then, I have retired which led me to volunteer at the Foodbank.

What made you want to volunteer initially?

I first got involved through a friend who lives in Bar Hill and is also a volunteer. I was talking to her about my retirement and how I wanted to be a part of something important. She suggested the Foodbank as it is always looking for volunteers. After researching Cambridge City Foodbank online and reading about the incredible work it does, I knew it was absolutely the right place for me!

When I started, all of the positions at the Foodbank were volunteer roles, so I’ve seen it grow and develop over the years into what it is today. The organisation has always been a well-oiled machine, but without paid employees, there was limited scope for growth as volunteers could only give so much of their time, whereas now we can do so much more for our visitors. The growth since I started has been remarkable, but it is just so sad that there is the need for that increase in the first place.

What do you support with at the Foodbank?

I’m volunteer at the Fairbite shop in Arbury Court which is open Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays for two hours at a time. The shop acts as our members’ supermarket, and while it is open I support people with their shopping, welcome members, and generally help them feel comfortable or answer and questions that they may have.

Can you tell us a bit about the Fairbite shops?

I’ve been involved with Arbury Court’s Fairbite shop since it first opened and in that time it’s changed so much. The old building used to be very small so we couldn’t offer much. However, during the pandemic, we decided that getting a bigger shop,  with more storage, was vital if we wanted to meet the higher level of need. The great thing about Fairbite is that it gives people a choice, and as a result, helps break down the stigma people typically associate with a Foodbank. It also makes members feel like it’s ‘their shop’. We call this arm of the Foodbank a ‘social supermarket’. Fairbite essentially gives members of the community who are struggling financially the means to still do their weekly or monthly shop as they would at a normal supermarket, but with subsidies that make it more affordable.

The team at Arbury Court make volunteering there a pleasure – it’s lovely to get to know each other and work together, all while developing friendships.

What do you enjoy doing when you’re not volunteering?

I’m currently involved with the University of The Third Age in Cambridge which organises educational, social and fitness activities for people who are not or no longer in full-time employment. As part of this, I take part in badminton and tai-chi, a form martial arts for improving self-defence and health. I’m also involved with the local church in Bar Hill, and I love cycling, which I do roughly three times every week.

Do you have a message for someone who is considering volunteering with the Foodbank?

I would encourage anyone who is thinking about volunteering to volunteer, even if it is for an hour or two. Even the smallest amount of time will make such a difference to someone in need. With the ongoing cost of living crisis, so many families are struggling, and this winter in particular, it will only get harder. You can absolutely make a difference, so if you have the time I really encourage it. Plus, the team at the Foodbank are such wonderful people too, it really is an inspiring place to be.