Cromer & District Foodbank – meeting the need before, during and after COVID-19

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Cromer & District Foodbank has been up and running since 2012, so dealing with people’s individual crises is not new to the team, and they were well-experienced and equipped to deal with Covid-19 when it hit.  Even so, some things changed drastically, as project manager Tim Morton explains.

Safeguarding during Covid

“We lost 70 per-cent of our volunteers during Covid, many of them being of an age where they needed to self-isolate for the duration. The impact was lessened by the very nature of restricted working practices imposed by the pandemic – a team of three instead of five or six working in the warehouse, and only one person instead of two in a delivery vehicle. Strict cleaning protocols were put in place to ensure volunteer safety. (possibly add this either here or elsewhere?)

Volunteer safety is very important to us and we have followed Trussell Trust guidelines to the letter. Safeguarding is equally important for the people we help and support. Paper vouchers, although still used, have been replaced by electronic versions, which are then processed through our database after discussion and confirmation with the client. It works, it’s very efficient and fast.”

Personal visits to premises also had to be curtailed of course and, even with pandemic restrictions easing, careful safeguarding procedures, such as strategic placement of furniture and access and exit routes, are in place.

The Trussell Trust

Cromer & District Foodbank is part of the Trussell Trust network which runs the largest network of foodbanks in the UK and supports other food banks in Norfolk - Norwich, Mid Norfolk, King’s Lynn, Thetford, Waveney and Hunstanton.  The local network meets monthly to exchange experience and ideas.

A big area to cover

Cromer & District Foodbank’s name belies the fact that it has extended and grown over the years in response to demand and the capabilities of a well-organised team. The central hub in Cromer radiates out to community hubs at Sheringham, North Walsham, Holt, Stalham, Aylsham and an outlet at Wells Hospital. The Foodbank intends to re-brand itself as North Norfolk Foodbank to make it clear that the scheme is not restricted to Cromer and the surrounding villages.

It’s not just about ‘needing food’. There’s a wider, holistic approach to a person’s perceived needs. Co-ordination and networking with other public and voluntary agencies has deepened over time, proving invaluable in helpfully signposting to other services when appropriate, or contacting a case worker. The Foodbank has close connections with Citizens’ Advice as they have specialist knowledge of a broad range of topics and can refer to many more specific support agencies.

The whole process has refined to the extent where an individual or family can receive their delivery within a day or two, sometimes even on the same day. Distribution from the centres is by local volunteer drivers using their own vehicles, supported by the Foodbank van. To cope with increased demand for deliveries, Cromer & District Foodbank has ordered another van, which will enable even more deliveries. The van goes out every day, with deliveries being co-ordinated from Cromer to the other centres, and being distributed from there in fast measure.

No mean feat for an operation that covers an area of 200 square miles.

Fact and figures

The statistics reflect the extent of need and the commitment of the Foodbank team. Tim explains the scale of growth.

“During the financial year 2020/21 we’ve seen a significant increase in demand. We’ve seen the number of people fed increase by 42 per-cent to around 6,000, including the number of children fed increasing by 66 per-cent to 2,630. More families need us, but donations have also increased to enable us to meet demand. Food donations were up 50 per-cent to 66,500 kilograms; supermarkets, schools, businesses, churches and individuals have all rallied to support us. And it’s not just food – we also provide nappies, toiletries and other essential requisites. Financial donations have also risen because people have been locked down and not able to get to shops.”

The reason for being

Tim adds one more telling statistic.

“In the last 5 years the number of vouchers fulfilled has increased by 60%. The goal of reducing the need for Foodbanks does not seem to be attainable at present so we will continue to work with agencies and community groups to meet the need of people in crisis for the foreseeable future’’.

Cromer & District Foodbank was there before Covid, and it will be there long into the future. Next year sees the Foodbank’s tenth anniversary. However, as Tim points out optimistically:

“Our aim is to close”.

Read more about Cromer & District Foodbank here and find them on Facebook here

This is part of a series of examples of the huge contribution made by local VCSE organisations in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. To understand more about the pivotal role played by Voluntary and Social Enterprise organisations in Norfolk’s Covid-19 response effort please visit our Norfolk VCSE Covid-19 Story page.