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Carly Butler: Portsmouth Food Bank [Interview]

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In November, Stef Nienaltowski met with Carly Butler and the team at the Portsmouth Foodbank, based out of Kings Church in Portsmouth.
They support thousands of families over the year and distribute around 6,000 food parcels to those that need them. But that's not where it stops, they work with most of the city's agencies and refer people on to the relevant place for ongoing help and advice.

Please listen to or read the interview and get in touch with them if you can help.

Stef Nienaltowski: Good morning, I'm in the magnificent King's Church, the home of the Portsmouth Food Bank. I'm with Carly, the Food Bank Manager. Good morning Carly.

Carly Butler: Good morning Stef.

SN: As I say, we're in this magnificent church, where you run your operation from. When did it all start, and why here at the King's Church?

CB: It started ten years ago. A guy called Martin Mant who works here, he was a pastor of the church here. He went along to Salisbury Food Bank, and felt inspired by the work that Trussell Trust were doing in Salisbury. He saw a need in Portsmouth for people, and felt like we had to do something. So, that was the heart behind the food bank, and it started at King's Church because he was a pastor here. King's Church said 'yeah, go for it, if that’s your heart then let's go for it'.

SN: That's how it started. So, you're part of that nation-wide network, you've just mentioned there the Trussell Trust, bit of a tongue twister there that one. So, what are the objectives of the Trust then?

CB: So, the objectives of the Trust are, they're not in any way about people with faith, or people with no faith, they're about everybody, they're completely inclusive, but they are a Christian charity. Their actual aim, their main mission, is to end poverty and hunger in the UK, which is huge, but they want to do that by bringing communities together and seeing how people can help people.

SN: And that's an incredible objective, and that's something you're trying to do here in Portsmouth. When I spoke to you last time, and met you for the first time, I was unaware how people get referred to you, so could you, for the listeners, just explain how do people get referred to you?

CB: So, every client that comes here can only access this food bank with a red voucher, and they can get that voucher from over 140 agencies across the City. It might be someone that's working with them closely, beating an addiction or dealing with a mental health issue, or it could be something more distant, like they've popped in to an open cafe in a church, and they're in need, and they have a conversation, and the people there give them a red voucher and say 'I think you're going to need a food parcel to keep you going'. Everybody that comes is in a moment of crisis. They get that voucher, they come to us, and they can have up to three of those vouchers in 6 months, but the aim is to do something more than that, it's to help them out of the crisis.

SN: So, people can't just literally walk in of the street then?

CB: If they do walk in off the street when we're open, we would send them to [one of] two or three local places that are open to give them a voucher. We don't make that call, because then we can say that we give without prejudice. They come in, we don't judge their situation, the voucher entitles them to the food no matter what's going on.

SN: And last time I was in, you were telling me that it's not just long-term needy people, sometimes it's a very short-term help that you can offer as well.

CB: Yes, the short-term is actually often the reason that people are here, people come in a moment when something has happened to them, a redundancy, a job-loss, a health situation, a child's health situation, something that's really thrown them. And then suddenly they find that, without that month's pay, things are gonna get really tight, so that's why they would often come to us for things like that.

SN: Which is a brilliant service. You've mentioned the red vouchers, and you mentioned the 140 other places to get them from, so what other agencies in the City do you work with, once someone is referred to you?

CB: So, we have a Circle of Support worker here, who is funded by a Lottery Project actually for 5 years, there are 2 other of those in the City; one is at the Salvation Army, the Haven, and one is YouTrust Advice Portsmouth in North End. Those three Circle of Support workers work closely together to make sure everybody that sees them, that can be helped out of their crisis, we would refer them to the agency that most suits their need. So it could be anything from housing, to helping filling benefits forms, to sending them to Citizen's Advice, to the Job Centre, or a job club that's local, or a debt advisor, whoever it is that that person needs in that moment, we will refer them on to the appropriate person. Our Circle of Support worker has a huge A4 folder just filled with leaflets for the right people for the job, no matter what the situation.

SN: And that is 1 person?

CB: Yes, so Debbie does that here, and there's 2 other across the City who are the Circle of Support workers, and they do a fantastic job of referring people to the right places.

SN: Incredible. So, my next question is really in two parts. What help can businesses in Portsmouth offer you, and the second part of that, what help can individuals offer you if they wanted to do so?

CB: So, businesses across the City can help us, one of the main things they can help us with is man-power. We have peaks where we have a lot of food, which is how we've been right now for Harvest, and for Christmas we'll be the same, and we just need people. Businesses can send in a team on a volunteer day, they can really just sort out our warehouse, they can do a collection for us, we have a national collection in Tesco every December, and if we have a team from a business who will do a day at Tesco for us, that is just a huge blessing to us, we don't have the man-power to do every day of the week as well as the extra things sometimes. The other way businesses can help is obviously money, they can fund us in different ways. It can be for a specific project, it could be setting up a charity donation for the year, so those are the two ways really for businesses to help.

Individuals, we love to have volunteers who just serve week-in, week-out, we have a team for each day that we're open, and we really encourage volunteers to come give out food parcels, help with the website, or posting on social media, liaising with agencies, 140 agencies is a lot of agencies across the City, to keep them happy, so people who are just confident in coming in and giving me a bit of a help with some of the admin side is also great. So, yeah, we have quite a range of individual needs.

SN: Fantastic. If you don't mind me asking this, they don't have to be Christian people to do so?

CB: No, most of our teams aren't Christians, they're just people who have been moved to help a food bank. They've seen a film called 'I, Daniel Blake', or they've seen the needs in Portsmouth and they just want to get involved.

SN: So, if we look forward now for maybe a year or two, what would you and the team here like the Portsmouth Food Bank to become?

CB: I think it's one of those tricky questions. Just the fact that we exist means that we haven't solved the problem we're trying to solve. So, what I'd love to happen is that we didn't have a Portsmouth Food Bank in 2 years, because everyone had food on the table and in their cupboards. But, in reality, I'd love us to be working more effectively, I'd love us to have a warehouse downstairs, that's what we're aiming for and we've got some funding to do that, we just need the permission. So, that would be my absolute dream, it would take a huge amount of pressure off the team. I'd also just like to see us working a lot closer with agencies, we're already on that road, but just seeing all the groups in Portsmouth be really clear with communication, so everybody is working together to help people, especially people with long-term situations, to get back on their feet, have somewhere to live, have food in their cupboards, have a job, and just see people really have their lives turned around because people have communicated well and worked together well to see that change.

SN: That's an admirable goal. Shaping Portsmouth is going to do everything it can to help you, so I'm delighted we're now going to work together, and I'll come back and talk to you in a few months’ time and see how we're doing along that goal!

CB: Excellent

SN: Carly thanks for your time

CB: Thank you

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