This week at NCVS – 25 April (guest blog)
This latest instalment in our regular blog is a guest blog by Nigel Webster of Bestwood and Bulwell Food Bank, part of the Trussell Trust network, in which he reflects on what’s been a busy week for his organisation...
Well we will not forget Easter Sunday 2014! What began for us as a peaceful day of celebration ended in a storm-in-a-teacup media frenzy of radio and TV interviews. Why? Because we did what we are supposed to do as a charity, by helping someone who said they were in need. I refer of course to an article published by the Mail on Sunday, for which they went to the trouble of sending an undercover reporter to find out that Bestwood and Bulwell Food Bank does exactly what it says on the tin.
The Mail on Sunday article claimed it was easy - too easy - to get a referral to our food bank. Ignoring the inaccuracies and errors in the piece, it actually proved the opposite. Despite a trumpeting headline of ‘No questions asked’, The Citizens Advice Bureau here in Nottingham, where the newspaper’s reporter began his undercover mission, had actually asked him a series of detailed questions. He responded by telling them of the plight of his family - and no doubt conscious of the looming Bank Holiday shutdown, the staff at Citizens Advice responded quickly and gave him a voucher so he could receive a food parcel from us – and the food we gave him was enough to last him and his family for three days, until further help could be arranged. In other words, the Citizens Advice Bureau did exactly what they should have done.
At Bestwood and Bulwell Food Bank, we work with our partners across Nottingham to ensure we give food to those experiencing a genuine crisis. However, like all systems, it can be subject to abuse, especially when tested by the skill of experienced deceivers from the Mail on Sunday. However, our experience of feeding nearly 3,000 people a year tells us that this happens infrequently. Our process needs to be as simple as possible to ensure clients who are distressed and in genuine need receive a compassionate welcome at our food bank centre. We help everyone sent to us, with no discrimination. Of this, we are proud. We are not here to interrogate, we are here to treat people with dignity.
The Mail on Sunday could have asked all sorts of questions: why do food banks exist, why are they needed, why don’t people have enough money to feed their families? But they chose not to. Instead, they chose to put the boot into those of us who seek to serve some of the poorest members of our communities. Yes, the reporter from the Mail on Sunday received a food parcel, and yes, it was given without doubting his identity or circumstances. But does it really matter? Is it not something to be celebrated when communities come together to help the weakest? Should our first instinct be to help, or should we turn away those who struggle to feed their children because they cannot provide what the likes of the Mail on Sunday would consider to be adequate information?
We will always err on the side of compassion. We do not want to see a single person or family in this city go hungry. We look forward to the day when every employer pays at least a living wage and every payday lender and loan shark has gone out of business. A day when people can live in their homes without the threat of violence, and a day when the whole of our society treats the poor, the sick, and the disabled with the respect they deserve. Until that day we will continue, along with many of you reading this, to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, help the sick, and set the oppressed free.
Thanks to Nigel for taking the time to write this guest blog for us. As you may have seen, NCVS also responded to the Mail on Sunday's story - by sending a food parcel to the Mail on Sunday's offices. You can see more details of our '#FeedTheMail' campaign here.
Though our weekly blog is usually written by someone who works at NCVS, we are always interested in hearing from people from other organisations who would like to write a 'guest blog'. If you are interested, please contact the NCVS Communications Team via email at communications[at]nottinghamcvs.co[dot]uk. Our first ever 'guest blogger' was Nottingham business-owner Dawn Hartley, who wrote a blog for us about why, as an employer, she thinks volunteering is important. You can read her blog here.