This month, we spoke to Cambridge City Foodbank trustee, Martin Evans, to learn more about the distribution centre at St. Paul’s, the community it serves, and its plans for the future. Martin is also a member of St Paul’s Church. It’s with thanks to the team of dedicated volunteers that St Paul’s has been a Cambridge City Foodbank distribution centre since the charity’s inception.
How long has St. Paul’s been running its foodbank centre and what inspired you to get
St. Paul’s is one of the original three churches that formed the Cambridge City Foodbank in 2010, and we’ve been providing the space for a distribution centre every week since. St. Paul’s has always been committed to an open-door policy and to supporting the homeless and marginalised communities within the local area and wider city, so providing a foodbank service was the natural next step for us.
When the foodbank was first established, the issue of food poverty was nowhere near as prevalent as it is today, but we were approaching a difficult period for many people. That’s why we became a distribution centre, to help bolster the support provided to the poorest in the Cambridge community.
What are the biggest changes that you’ve experienced over the past 12 years?
In the first few years, people were slightly more apprehensive to come forward and ask for support, but more recently we’ve noticed people feel more reassured when visiting us. We’ve largely become ‘a part of the furniture’ for the local community!
I’d like to celebrate our volunteers who have worked incredibly hard to create a warm, welcoming and inclusive experience at the distribution centre. The experience of visiting a foodbank may always have slightly embarrassing connotations for some, which it absolutely shouldn’t, but with the addition of the Fairbite shops, and our volunteers providing the opportunity for a quick chat in a comfortable environment, we are working towards building something really special.
Can you tell us a little about the community that St. Paul’s serves?
At St. Paul’s, we live by a mantra of there is no us and them, there is only us, only togetherness, and subsequently, we support people from all walks of life. From the homeless and the lonely to those that have a more comfortable home life, everyone that enters our church is made to feel welcome and will be offered a cup of tea or coffee.
What has been a highlight of working at St. Paul’s distribution centre?
A highlight for me has been seeing the simplification of signing people in to gain access to the foodbank service. This has been an emotional and complex experience for some in the past. As a foodbank, we must make the experience as affirming, as comfortable and as ‘normal’ as possible. Another highlight has been working alongside our fabulous volunteers. It’s extraordinary just how lovely some people are, and it’s a humbling experience to learn about the background of our volunteers. They truly are a credit to the community, and we are so fortunate to have them at St. Paul’s.
And what are the biggest challenges?
I think the biggest challenge facing us at the moment is keeping our focus on the next stage of our development. I’m always keen for us to do more and support additional people. The cost of living crisis has only strengthened this desire. We’ll have the evaluation of the first two Fairbite shops with us by Christmas, and, if it’s a model that is working – which I believe is – then we will put solid plans in place to increase the number of locations. If the people of Cambridge believe in what we are doing, then I truly believe they will support us even further.
What do the next five years look like for St. Paul’s distribution centre? Do you have any future plans?
We’d like to explore all options for providing further support for our local community. In the past, we have looked at potentially providing space to run a Fairbite shop inside the church, but unfortunately we currently don’t have the space to accommodate this. Although this is only currently at the stage of informal conversations, one possibility to make this happen would be for taking on an external property. As well as providing another Fairbite shop location, we could use this space to offer tea and coffee facilities, further encouraging those in need of emotional support to reach out.