With 670,000 additional people in the UK being officially classed as ‘destitute’ by the end of 2020, food poverty in the UK is at crisis point. Robin Ferris, founder and CEO of Bankuet, an organisation set up to help stock the UK’s foodbanks, tells Nic Eatch of SR News what is needed to help feed those in immediate need.
“A UK where no one goes hungry” – that is the mission statement of Bankuet, says founder Robin Ferris.
Back in 2018 he was shocked to discover that his neighbouring borough of Tower Hamlets, in London, had the highest child poverty rates in the country.
“Fifty-seven per cent of children were in poverty,” said Ferris. This catalysed him into action and he volunteered at a local food bank.
“I realised that the food bank I worked in had an over-supply of things like cereals, beans and pasta – however, there was a real shortage of items such as toothpaste, tampons and nappies,” he explained.
This gave him the idea to set up Bankuet.
The company invites people to give one-off cash donations – typically between £10 to £100 – or monthly subscriptions.
Food banks then supply a ‘shopping list’ of items where they have a shortage and then, through a combination of bulk-buying and fostering close relationships with high street grocers, these items are delivered back out to the food banks.
“We launched the platform in July 2019 and by the end of that year we had 10 food banks in our network,” said Ferris.
“We delivered 15,000 items and fed approximately 500 people. Gateshead was our first food bank outside of London that we linked with. I went to the University of Northumbria, so I had close ties with the North East.
“Then Covid hit and in March we went into lockdown. Donations went up by 5,000% due to the incredible generosity of the great British public and businesses.
“In the first two months of lockdown we supplied 133,000 items – enough to feed 15,000 people.”
“FOOD BANKS GIVE FOOD BUT THEY ALSO BRING HOPE”
As we enter the Christmas period the Bankuet founder talks of what he believes can really help those who find themselves in extreme financial difficulty.
“From a donation of £15 we can supply a Christmas hamper packed full of special treats; Christmas puddings, Celebrations [chocolates], Christmas logs etc.
“You don’t really want to receive items like these in February, these items are needed now,” he explained.
The demographic of people needing help has changed, according to the Trussell Trust, another major social enterprise focused on solving the escalating issue of food poverty .
With huge job losses due to damage caused by the global pandemic, some of the middle classes are now finding themselves in a desperate situation.
“Sadly, over the coming months we expect to see further increases in the need for food banks and support, as the economic impacts of the pandemic continue to be felt,” said Emma Revie, Chief Executive of the Trust.
WHAT DOES 2021 HOLD IN STORE?
“I think it is going to get worse before it gets better ,” said the Bankuet CEO. “As an organisation, in terms of need, we are where we expected to be in two or three years’ time.
“We have had to be extremely agile and flexible as a platform to cope, infrastructure-wise, to keep up with demand,” .
When questioned about ‘fresh food’ a further problem is identified.
Many of the UK’s food banks lack refrigeration and freezer capacity. This makes storing perishable items such as fresh vegetables, fruit and salad a challenge. Many food parcels have been made up predominantly of tinned items that have a long shelf life.
However, as many nutritionists’ would evangelise, the problem is not just about having ‘some food’ but the ‘right types of food’.
Ferris has a solution for this.
“By their very nature frozen vegetables, due to their density, are known to be high in nutritional value. Many food banks are now looking at becoming equipped with freezer capacity to help service this need and avoid adding to food wastage problems,” he said.
“We are also working on supplying food parcels to vegans and vegetarians.
“Any one of us might need to use a food bank at some point and now is the time we need to help one another.”
HOW CAN YOU HELP?