Reflections on my first 12 months in post

By Steve Clay, CEO of Cambridge City Foodbank. 

As some of you may remember, when I first joined the Foodbank back in December 2022, I shared my welcome message via our volunteers’ newsletter. 12 months later, I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to reflect on the year that we’ve had together, share some of our plans for the future and, most importantly, wish all of you a very Happy Christmas.

One of the very first things that I did when I joined our Foodbank on 1 December 2022 – quite literally my first day – was to participate in the National Tesco Collection! It was a fantastic introduction to the organisation and a real joy to take part in. This year I was again, stationed at the Milton Tesco store on, as fate would have it, 1 December 2023. During the day, I met a young man who was volunteering with us for the very first time and his enthusiasm and excitement to be supporting those in need was inspiring. A few days later, I was conversing with someone who has been with us since our inception, 13 years ago and the most amazing thing is, the volunteer who had been with us for all those years had exactly the same level of passion as the young man who was just starting off his journey with us. This, to me, perfectly epitomises the breadth of dedication that each of you give as you volunteer.

It is no secret that this year has been tough. The level of need for emergency food support has reached heights that would have been unimaginable just a few years ago. At the end of last month, the figures stated that we’ve supported over 8,900 adults and nearly 5,000 children. Sadly, these will have risen significantly by the end of December…

Despite all of this, you have continued to selflessly donate your time and effort to support those in need. It has been said before, but without you, thousands across the city would be going hungry. In acknowledging that it has been a difficult 12 months I’m pleased that we have implemented our new BHSF Rise volunteer support helpline to ensure that you have the tools to support yourself. We have also reshaped ourselves as an organisation, bringing in new staff members to enable us to continue to operate as a well-oiled machine, while maintaining the health and wellbeing of our volunteers, and seeking out new ways to turn the tide of rising poverty in Cambridge.

Our ultimate aim is to end the need for Foodbanks in Cambridge. We have been liaising with our stakeholders, Foodbank visitors, partner organisations and members of our Fairbite social supermarkets to develop our new vision and values. The Board is now in the position where they’re almost ready to communicate this more widely. What I can tell you now, is that in 2024, we will be looking at what we can do differently to be able to more purposely meet the challenge of running ourselves out of business in the years ahead! In practice, we will be organising more local campaigns to push for our government to make changes to some of the structural and systemic measures that are holding people in poverty. We will also be looking to building further partnerships with organisations that will complement the work that we do at the Foodbank.

Moving forward, we want to position the charity as a provider of both ‘emergency’ food, and subsidised food; responding to immediate crisis’ and also supporting people in longer-term food insecurity. The wrap-around ‘financial inclusion’ service provided by Cambridge Citizen’s Advice will continue to play a crucial role in maximising personal financial income to reduce Foodbank reliance, whilst the expansion of our Fairbite social supermarkets will form a key part of our long-term strategy for subsidised food services. I am hopeful that by the end of this next year, we will have around five Fairbite sites across the city in total.

Final reflections

As a keen walker, when I moved to Cambridgeshire last year, I set myself the challenge of finding some hills in the county. Unfortunately, I am still searching, but in more positive news, I have had the most incredible year meeting, walking alongside and getting to know many of you. In truth, there are no words to describe just how indebted to you all I am. You are the engine of everything that Cambridge City Foodbank does, and without you, we simply wouldn’t be able to achieve anything.

At this time of year Christians are reminded that the story of ‘Emmanuel – God with us’, is not set in the protective surroundings of an affluence palace, but in a lowly stable, with an improvised animal trough as the only available bed for baby Jesus. Yet those who came to see him focused not on his surroundings, but on his intrinsic value – who HE was. As we reflect this Christmas time, may the Christmas story inspire us to see the God-given value in each person we serve – and give us a longer-term hope that we can create a better future together.

In fact, the work that you all already do is delivering hope to many, on a daily basis, through each food parcel, Christmas hamper, and fuel voucher given. You are all doing such a magnificent job of providing hope at a difficult time, and from the bottom of my heart, I thank you for everything that you do.

Have a fabulous Christmas, and I look forward to catching up with you all again in the New Year.