Hi, I’m Ellie, Chief Executive at The Welcome Centre.
I wanted to update you on what has been happening at The Welcome Centre over the last year, and what we’ve got planned for the coming year and beyond.
Headline figures for the last year:
- We supported almost 6,000 people, including 2,000 children
- We gave more than 360,000 meals – almost 1,000 meals a day on average
- Our advice team provided more than 2,000 support sessions for our clients
We have achieved an awful lot in the last 12 months, in very challenging circumstances; Covid and now the cost of living crisis. And of course, these are just the headlines, we’ve done so much more than this:
- We’ve reviewed and improved our food packs, to make sure they’re the best they can be
- We’ve supported 350 households with grants totalling more than £100,000, to help pay for fuel, furniture, and other essentials
- We’ve partnered with other local charities to be able to offer our clients visits to the theatre, and children's places at summer holiday camps
- We’ve launched a digital inclusion scheme giving clients access to sim cards and smartphones
In autumn 2021 we were all still wearing face masks, sanitising our hands constantly, and socially distancing. Those of you who’ve visited our Lord Street building will understand just how challenging it was for us to socially distance whilst running a busy food bank.
This time last year, as we transitioned away from Covid, we were finally able to reopen the Centre to clients, after almost two years. This felt like such a positive step back to normality – it meant that clients could come in and pick up their food packs from Lord Street, and access face-to-face, personalised support from our Advice, Guidance and Support team.
Alongside reopening, we continued to offer the home delivery service we introduced during Covid, and we knew from client feedback how popular and necessary that was. And for people receiving home deliveries, our Advice team introduced telephone support appointments, to make sure they could also benefit from the additional support available to them at The Welcome Centre, and they weren’t missing out. So far so good.
In December alone we supported more than 1,000 households and gave out more than 40,000 meals. It was one of our busiest months ever, and we realised we were reaching the capacity of what our Lord Street building could handle - volunteers were tripping over each other, and every spare inch of floor space was taken.
This realisation was the catalyst for some big changes for The Welcome Centre.
We agreed at that point we needed to make some changes before Christmas 2022, to make sure we’d be able to meet what we knew would be an even bigger demand. At the same time, we were also thinking about how our Advice services could meet the growing need for their support, but with the same problem – there just wasn’t enough space!
We started to think more about further improvements we could make to our food bank service. Top of our agenda was giving clients more dignity when they visit The Welcome Centre, by further increasing the level of choice they have about what’s in their food packs.
Unfortunately, that’s when the reality of the looming cost of living crisis began to emerge, and we knew that our plans for improving client choice would have to be paused. Instead, we needed to focus on being ready to meet the significant growth in demand for both our food bank and our advice service. Which brought us back to our problem of space and capacity at Lord Street….. Staff and trustees put our heads together, and that’s when we had our light bulb moment - the issue we faced wasn’t that we needed more space, it was how we use the space we have!
We started making plans to move the ‘packing’ part of the food bank operation to our warehouse site in Lockwood. This would mean that all of our supplies would be stored under one roof, and crucially, we’d have much more space to work with! This in turn would free up space at Lord Street for our Advice services to grow.
We shared our plans with our volunteers and referral partners and made some improvements based on their feedback, and then we were ready! On a rainy October weekend, we ‘moved’ the food bank from Lord Street to our warehouse. We’ve settled quickly into our new system, and after a few teething issues, we’re already seeing the benefit in terms of our capacity to help people.
The next 12 months
It’s absolutely crucial that we made this change when we did. Year on year, our food bank output tends to increase by around 15%, but with the impact of the cost of living crisis, we’re bracing ourselves for an increase of up to 40% this year.
Already, around a third of our referrals are because people are struggling to cope with the cost of living crisis, and that will only intensify as we head into winter.
We are very fortunate in the support we receive from our community. Businesses, grant funders, individuals, and community and faith-based groups support us throughout the year with donations of money and stock. And we need that support – last year we gave out £400,000 worth of stock. And thanks in large part to the support of our very generous community – we’re ready to meet the increased need that we’ll see.
Food banks should not be needed
But the sad thing is since The Welcome Centre first opened 20 years ago:
- the need for our service has increased year after year; in our first year we gave out 500 packs, and last year we gave out just less than 20,000.
- the reasons why people need our support have become more complex and more varied
- the types of households we support have also changed – for instance, a third of the households we support now, are families with children.
But the most striking thing is that many of the households we support now aren’t in ‘short term crisis’, they’re in long term poverty.
That change from short-term crisis to long-term poverty is a tragedy, and it’s a completely unacceptable state of affairs. Our top priority for the next 12 months is to be able to meet the increased need that we know the cost of living crisis will bring. But alongside this, and equally importantly, we’ll also be speaking out on behalf of the people we support, highlighting the circumstances driving people to visit the food bank and the changes that would mean they didn’t have to.
The Welcome Centre’s vision has always been that we’d like to close our doors because we’re no longer needed. Speaking out about the issues facing our clients is an important part of helping to achieve that vision. Until then though, we’ll be here supporting people.
So thank you to everyone who supports The Welcome Centre, our amazing team of volunteers, staff, and trustees and all of our generous supporters and partners in the community.
Ellie Coteau - Chief Executive - The Welcome Centre