South Tyneside food bank branches out into preventative work in preparation for unprecedented levels of need

The new head of a South Tyneside charity, which operates one of the borough’s main food banks, says a considerable degree of the organisation’s efforts for 2021 will be directed towards preventative work.

Thursday, 28th January 2021, 2:03 pm

Brian Thomas, the newly-appointed CEO at Hospitality and Hope, told The Gazette that inter-related support services need to be provided in other areas in order to help residents weather the coming months.

They are faced with still-growing numbers expected to require emergency support this year, as unemployment figures look set to reach their highest levels in decades.

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Hospitality and Hope volunteers prepare for a year set to be defined by unprecedented levels of need

In response to the unprecedented scale of the jobs and wider social crisis predicted to unfold over the course of 2021, Mr Thomas explains that a joined-up, multi-agency approach will be key to lending stability to the lives of a growing number of residents.

"Our focus is starting to move around what are the root causes and how can we help there,” he said.

"We’re not expecting any decline over the next 12 months in terms of the numbers of people who will need support from us or other groups like us in the area.

"So what we’re starting to think about is the medium to longer-term preventative work – how do we get the right debt counselling in place for people, how do we support people to address the wellbeing and social network issues which are impacting on their lives, so they can regain some stability until they get back into employment again?”

According to the Hospitality and Hope boss, the organisation in recent months has seen a 40% increase in the number of residents regularly forced to use the food bank.

Regular use, according to the Trussell Trust, is defined as three times or more during a six-month period.

Mr Thomas also said that, as a response to the unprecedented levels of need expected across the borough and a change in the profile of regular food bank users, his group is set to launch a new debt counselling service in conjunction with Age Concern UK.

"The other shift we're seeing is people who have previously been in employment and have lost their jobs through Covid,” he added.

"It’s been life-changing for them and they’re now having to resort to food bank support just to get through the weeks and the months of unemployment and Covid.

"And of course for those people it’s a big shift, as they’re now having to budget in a way they didn’t before.

"We need to make sure they’re getting the right support for benefit claims and debt management as a first step of beginning to feel more in control of their lives.”

The South Shields-based Hospitality and Hope food bank said it handed out 3,000 food parcels to in-need borough residents last year, with 100 more packages having been provided over the Christmas week.

Mr Thomas told The Gazette that working at the centre during December was “a real eye opener” and that it has been clear residents in the area are already bearing the economic brunt of the pandemic.

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