Austerity: the church responds


By Tim Ferguson

For so long, we have heard about cuts, austerity and hard financial climate. The bishops have been vocal about the way that the poorest in society are being treated, but what can the local church do in response to poverty and government cuts?

Newcastle West End Foodbank; cheerful volunteers doing a great jobDifferent churches will come up with ways of supporting their local communities, but one way of supporting people through crises like this is the foodbank.

One of the major charities behind foodbanks is the Trussell Trust ( It began in Salisbury in 2000 where a Christian had been doing some fundraising for work in orphanages in Bulgaria. A woman rang him up and said that she thought the work he was doing for Bulgarian children was really good.

But then, she said; “my children are going to bed hungry tonight, and what are YOU going to do about it?” The man went to buy food for her and her family, but wondered whether there were more people in her position. He was amazed to find that she was not alone, and that there were many people who were going hungry.

Amazingly, this story comes from Salisbury, which is not the poorest part of Britain, and it came in the year 2000, long before anyone had even heard phrases like “austerity measures.” Since this beginning, the Trussell Trust (named after the woman whose legacy helped to launch it) has been formed to provide information, training, practical support, to enable local churches up and down the country to open foodbanks. So far, over 300 have opened.

How does Newcastle West End Foodbank work?

  • Getting the food

    In December 2012 a few volunteers stood in the entrance to Tesco at Kingston Park (Newcastle), and gave out our shopping list of non-perishable items to customers as they came in. we invited everyone to add an item from our list onto their shopping and then they donated that item as they left the shop. It was amazing to see how generous some people were. Many people gave us tins of beans and pasta, soup, and cereals. Some gave us great big carrier bags full, others took a trolley round and filled it, and gave the whole lot away.
    It was amazing seeing people’s kindness. We got more than we bargained for because by the time the first lorry load had been taken to our store room and unloaded, our shelves were almost full. This was on Saturday afternoon and we were supposed to be there all day Saturday and then on Sunday as well!

    That weekend, the public gave 2.55 tonnes of food to start our foodbank. Since then, many individuals, companies, and a solicitors’ office have been in touch, offering food that they have collected. We have also had lots of food donated from congregations across the diocese.
  • Finding people who need the food

    Trussell Trust works on a voucher system which means that charities and other front line services (such as Citizens’ Advice Bureaux, social services, or GP surgeries) identify people who need food. The front line organisation issues the person a voucher, and then they come with a voucher to pick up food when we are open on Monday afternoons and Thursday mornings.
  • Helping us

    We are so grateful to many people who have already donated food. We will need more in the coming months. Can your church or place of work organise a food collection? We have a shopping list of specific foods that we need, which we can send to you. If so, please do get in touch. At present it looks as if we will run out of food before our next supermarket collection in July.

    We always need volunteers to help give the food out, meet people and sort the food packages out. For those who work during the day, that is not easy, but we do have supermarket collection days (next one is on 5th 6th July). And if anyone has a head for strategy and wants to help develop the project, then we do need trustees and board members.

Since the beginning of Trussell Trust, foodbanks have grown in response to demand. In 2005 nationwide, they fed 3,000 people. By 2011-12, this figure had risen to 130,000. Last year (April 2012 – March 2013) they fed 345,000 people including 125,000 children (source Trussell Trust website).

Many people do not see that there are hungry people around. Edwina Curry voiced publicly what many people had thought privately, that she could not believe that people in our country in the 21st century were going hungry. But the figures speak for themselves. Many people are going without food, and many are struggling to survive. With all of the help that foodbanks are giving, I fear that it is only scratching the surface. But we are doing what we can, which seems to be better than doing nothing at all.

If you would like to help in any way, please contact us on 07756 279469 or e-mail

See our website:

Wansbeck Valley Foodbank is currently distributing food on Tuesday afternoons in Morpeth and Thursday mornings in Ashington. The steering group is hoping to start distributing food on Wednesday lunchtimes in Newbiggin over the next couple of weeks. Our plan is that over the next few months we will open distribution centres in Pegswood and Lynemouth, with one of those open on a Monday and one on a Friday, so that we have the week covered. We're held our second food drive in Ashington ASDA on 17th May.

If anyone would like to contact us to find out how they can get involved they can email

The Revd Tim Ferguson is Team Vicar of Benwell in Newcastle





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