This month, we welcomed new CEO, Steve Clay, to Cambridge City Foodbank. Read his first interview below to find out more about his background, his hopes for the future, why he decided to join our organisation, and more.
Can you tell us about your background prior to joining Cambridge City Foodbank?
I have worked for the majority of my working life in the voluntary and charity sector, and I’ve also spent quite a lot of time volunteering. For the last 19 years, I was CEO of YMCA Black Country in the Midlands, and during my tenure, we grew from a single site organisation in West Bromwich, to having 24 sites across the region. By the time I stood down as CEO and joined Cambridge City Foodbank, we were housing over 400 young people each night in safe, welcoming accommodation, and providing childcare for up to 500 children each weekday.
How have your first weeks at the Foodbank been?
I am just coming towards the end of my third full week, and it’s been quite a whirlwind! Within my first 48 hours, there were radio interviews, a TV profile piece, the national Tesco collection, the Winter Hamper appeal and more. While it has been busy, it is very helpful to get a sense of these things.
Something that has really struck me, even after just a couple of weeks, is the huge sense of generosity of the people of Cambridge. It has already become clear to me that people are very conscious of the fact that Cambridge is the most unequal city in the UK, in terms of the richest and poorest, which seems to drive people to want to do something. During the Tesco collection, I witnessed some people literally dropping off entire trollies full of food – some of them donating multiple times! Isn’t that just fantastic?
Everyone at the foodbank has also been incredibly helpful, and I’ve been taken aback by our amazing volunteers, especially considering we are in the midst of what is surely the busiest period in the foodbank’s history. I must give a special shoutout to Margaret Saner, who has done a fantastic job as the CEO of Cambridge City Foodbank, without being paid – outstanding! Her levels of generosity are beyond words, and she has been incredibly supportive during my bedding-in process.
What inspired you to join Cambridge City Foodbank?
Over the past few years, the need for foodbanks has grown significantly and, the sad reality is, the requirement to seek support from a foodbank is not too far from all of us, particularly with the ongoing cost-of-living crisis. When the opportunity arose for me to make a difference in tackling food poverty in an incredibly unequal city, at a particularly difficult time, I simply had to take it.
Also, it is the chance to work with a brilliant team of volunteers who go above and beyond for the local community. At the Tesco collection, I even got to meet some of the doners and volunteers who support us because they once needed the support of our foodbank and wanted to ‘give back’.
What are your hopes for the future?
My big hope for the future is that we live in a country that doesn’t need foodbanks. We are not in the business of trying to hold people in poverty, we are in the business of trying to eradicate poverty. If the national climate were to change to such an extent that foodbanks were no longer necessary, then we would all applaud that but, unfortunately, we are not, yet, in that position. We are in a position where there is a huge amount of need out there.
Perhaps more realistically, in the future, I want Cambridge City Foodbank to be more effective with the wrap around support that we can provide for our visitors. For example, connecting with more agencies and projects such as the Citizens Advice Bureau. This could also be expanded into new geographical areas that we are not currently delivering in – a long-term aspiration for the board which I hope to make a reality.
Finally, I also want to make sure that our volunteers feel not just appreciated, but well supported. That could be in relation to building upon and improving our volunteer training programmes, and also in developing some supervisory support. Our volunteers support people who are vulnerable and will subsequently be hearing about their traumas and troubles. I’d like to build a platform to ensure our volunteers feel supported through this process.
What do you enjoy doing while you’re away from the Foodbank?
My family has recently relocated from the Black Country to North Cambridgeshire which has taken a lot of planning and preparation. Because of this, my time to do other things has been limited, but when I do find some free time, I love hiking. I really enjoy getting out into the open air and, in the last few years, I’ve walked the Dales Way, Two-Saints Way, part of the South-West Coastal Path and more. I really enjoy walking with company, but I also enjoy strolling off on my own and getting lost in nature. Another thing that is important to me is my Christian faith, which also drove me towards Cambridge City Foodbank.
Do you have a message for our volunteers?
From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank you all. We simply wouldn’t survive without you, and you are the lifeblood of Cambridge City Foodbank. In my first few weeks with the foodbank, I’ve connected with many volunteers personally, but I am aware that there are still lots of you I am yet to meet. I have been humbled and blown away by your generosity and willingness to give your time, and I am so incredibly grateful to you all. I look forward to meeting more of you shortly.
I would also like to personally wish you all a very Merry Christmas and thank you for your support throughout 2022. See you all in the New Year!