Bigger base needed as Foodbank feeds 50 per cent more

ROTHERHAM Foodbank is set to move to bigger premises — as figures show the number of people fed in February was 50 per cent up on last year.

There are also fears that first-timers being allocated aid packages are not collecting them because of the perceived stigma around accepting the crisis help.

The foodbank is run by Hope Church, which is set for new premises as the current Grove Road base in Rotherham town centre is set for conversion to 13 apartments.

Food package collections are done on a referral basis, with families nearing crisis point issued vouchers from partner agencies like Citizens Advice.

Last month, 197 vouchers were redeemed to help 416 people, up from 137 vouchers supporting 277 people in February 2021.

And the number of residents being helped per foodbank session has risen from 35 to more than 50 over the same period.

“The figures are astronomical,” said foodbank manager Steve Prosser. “The crisis now is potentially worse than it was in Covid times.

The expectation is that it numbers are going to go up, with the issues around energy and fuel costs. It’s going to translate into increased costs of foods.

“If you look in the supermarkets now, there are not the same deals you always used to see, even for microwave meals. They are incurring costs themselves.”

The number of vouchers issued for February is believed to be about 50 higher than the 197 parcels collected from Grove Road.

Steve said many of these would have been first time visitors, and the obvious explanation was that people previously living just above the breadline were reluctant to cross the foodbank’s threshold to accept the aid.

The Grove Road base was built in 1923 by Rotherham Rural District Council. It was later West Riding Council’s education base and RMBC’s finance block, before Hope Church moved there in 2013.

Prior to that, the foodbank — established in 2012 — had been run from a small upstairs office at Voluntary Action Rotherham’s HQ on Coke Hill.

Hope’s new premises have not been disclosed, although Steve said they would be relatively central — without being too prominent, which could discourage clients collecting food.

Expanding with a food warehouse outside and taking space in the cellar has still not provided enough room during peak donation times, while the congregation numbers have swelled to 150 on Sundays.

“From the church services perspective, we are at full capacity,” said Steve. “If everyone connected with the church turned up at once, there would not be enough seats.

“We can do two services, but that doesn’t feel like a whole church community when we’re splitting it in two.

“We will ensure that whatever happens with the building, the foodbank will not close. We’ll do whatever we need to do to keep it open.”

The end of this month will mark the end of Steve’s six years running the foodbank, as he officially takes the role of associate pastor with the church.

The new role will also involve mission work and he spent 11 days in Kenya recently helping get food to the Turkana people of remote Kenya, in a new community which only had its first water borehole drilled 18 months ago. Trips to North Macedonia and Serbia will follow in the coming weeks.

Steve said: “It’s strange to discover things are already happening with Rotherham Foodbank without them being my decisions. It’s been so much of my life over the last six years.

“It’s made a huge difference to people; helping them through their time of crisis.

“I’d like to think I’ve left it in a better and more effective state and, hopefully, we’ve developed the foundations for going forward because I think demand is going to skyrocket.”