Interview with Stephen Thornton


Starting our new series profiling different members of the Cambridge City Foodbank leadership team, we spoke to Chair of Trustees, Stephen Thornton. Read our interview below to find out more about Stephen’s responsibilities within the foodbank, the biggest challenges we are currently facing, his vision for the future, and more.

What is your role at the foodbank?

I’m the Chair of the Trustees, and I’m responsible for managing and running the board of Trustees. However, I’d like to make it clear that I’m not the Chief Executive of the foodbank! Our outgoing CEO Margaret Saner, and our new CEO, Steve Clay, are responsible for the overall running the organisation – and what a fantastic job Margaret has done.

How did you come to be involved with Cambridge City Foodbank?

I first became involved with the foodbank over three years ago, when I was tapped on the shoulder by the former Chair, David Livesey. I first met David when he was a Trustee of Cambridge and District Citizens Advice Bureau, where I was volunteering at the time. As a result of that, I joined the foodbank as a Trustee, and when David stepped down, I took over as Chair.

What are the biggest challenges facing the foodbank?

Our biggest challenge is what I would call ‘chronic’ or ‘long-term’ poverty, which is a relatively new phenomenon in our society. There have always been people who have gone through difficult times, and have needed short-term help, on top of any help they may have received from the government through benefits. This is what the foodbank was originally set up for; to provide people with emergency food aid to get them through a really tough time. We are now moving towards a situation where there are a lot of people, all over the country, including people here in this otherwise affluent city, who are now living in long-term poverty. The big question is, what is the role of foodbanks in these circumstances, and how can we continue to support those in need?

Do you have a favourite moment from your time at the foodbank?

My favourite moment was earlier this year when we opened our second Fairbite shop at Hope Church in Chesterton. This links very much to what I was saying about supporting people in long-term poverty. Our Fairbite shops in Arbury Court and Hope Church, Chesterton are what are known generally as ‘social supermarkets,’ which are designed for people who have longer term needs beyond the requirement for emergency food aid. This is one of our significant strategic aims; to open up more social supermarkets around the city where people are in need, because that’s what people in long-term poverty require.

What are your hopes for the future?

This is very difficult, as there are two hopes for me which clash! There is the dream of putting ourselves out of business, of not being needed, or at least, only being required to provide people with emergency food aid. I don’t foresee there never being a requirement for foodbanks, but I dream of us only being needed in emergencies. But the reality is frankly, in the opposite direction. The reality is developing and growing the foodbank; partnering with other organisations to provide far more than just emergency food aid. It’s a strange situation when we sit around the board table, as, on one hand, we want to do ourselves out of a job, but on the other hand, we want to develop and grow the foodbank. We are happy to ‘dream the dream,’ but we are realistic, and we live in the here and now. There are people in our community that are in need, and we believe it is our role to help meet that need.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I’d like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the remarkable work that our volunteers do. A lot of people don’t realise that our outgoing CEO, Margaret Saner, is a volunteer. It’s incredible! We have volunteers doing all sorts of different roles within the foodbank, and, without these volunteers, the foodbank would fold. We simply wouldn’t be able to provide people with the food they need, and I’m in awe of all of our volunteers, whatever their role is. Whether you support us doing a couple of hours a month in the warehouse, whether you’re in a more senior role like Margaret, or you volunteer in any of the positions in between, you are fantastic – thank you so much!