Wythenshawe Foodbank: ‘January was our busiest ever month – I’m worried it will get worse’

Wythenshawe Foodbank says it saw demand for food parcels reach record levels in January - and is worried things are going to get worse.
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January is always one of the busiest months for food banks, Wythenshawe Foodbank manager Tom Allan says. In the first few weeks that follow Christmas, finances are typically tight.

But this January was the busiest ever at the Manchester facility with more food parcels provided in one month alone than there were in the first two last year. Manager Tom is worried that things will only get worse.

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“If people can’t afford to make ends meet now,” the 28-year-old asks apprehensively, “what are they going to do when energy bills go up again in April?”

The food bank, which was set up in 2016, fed 427 people last month. Tom says he is seeing more working people and single parents who have never had to use a food bank before now finding themselves with no alternative.

Why is demand at Wythenshawe Foodbank so high?

People whose wages are topped up by benefits are trying to balance working extra hours with the cost of childcare, according to Tom. In many cases, they find that taking more shifts at work means they will be worse off, he explains.

People struggling with debt are increasingly using the food bank too, he adds. Last year, debt was the main reason for just 2% of referrals – now it is behind 10%.

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Anyone can use the food bank, which moves around the town to different locations each day, but they require a referral for a food parcel voucher. Tom says most of the referrals in Wythenshawe come from housing associations whose tenants cannot afford to feed their families once their rent is paid.

But vouchers can also be issued by schools, the council or even healthcare professionals. Tom is keen to work with as many organisations as possible.

“We started to get phone calls from doctors saying their patients are hungry,” he says. “So we’re getting doctors and midwives on board now too.”

Tough financial times mean a concerning drop in donations when demand is rising

But along with the increased demand, there has been a drop in donations. Tom says the food bank – which is part of the Trussell Trust network – has already spent more money buying food this year than it did in the whole of last year.

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Marcus Rashford’s campaign to feed hungry children inspired generosity in the town where the Manchester United star grew up, Tom says. But he has noticed ‘compassion fatigue’ setting in since the pandemic.

And Tom, who grew up in Gorton, worries where donations will come from as people struggle to feed themselves and corporate donors tighten the purse strings post-pandemic. Having worked at Wythenshawe Foodbank for nearly two years, he will soon be moving to the town he is now so passionate about.

Once the largest council estate in Europe, Tom says the South Manchester suburb suffers from a lack of wealthy areas surrounding it. “Wythenshawe looks after itself,” he says, “but you need that little bit of wealth to come in.”

Wythenshawe Foodbank manager Tom Allan. Photo: Kenny Brown/MENWythenshawe Foodbank manager Tom Allan. Photo: Kenny Brown/MEN
Wythenshawe Foodbank manager Tom Allan. Photo: Kenny Brown/MEN

With the energy price cap set to increase in April, Tom is ‘praying’ for a warm summer. “If it’s raining, then I hate to think what it’s going to be like,” he adds.

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Energy costs have also affected how the food bank operates. With diesel prices shooting up, Tom says the van must now be used more sparingly.

However, the ‘manic’ month of January has only motivated staff and volunteers to help more people access the food bank. Tom sees the service they provide as a ‘stepping stone’ for those facing a period of crisis.

“When things go wrong, people phone us up in tears saying they don’t know what to do,” he says. “Especially people who’ve never used a food bank before. We pick up the pieces when things fall apart.”

If you’re able to help the foodbank with donations, or just want more information, visit the Wythenshawe Foodbank website, email [email protected] or call Tom on 07518198645.

What has Manchester City Council said?

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People can be referred to foodbanks through Manchester City Council by calling the cost of living advice line on 0800 023 2692 from Monday to Friday, 9am to 4:30pm. Manchester residents can also get help through the council’s Helping Hands webpage.

Council leader Bev Craig said: “We know the cost-of-living crisis is pushing people across Manchester into incredible hardship. As a council it is our utmost priority to extend as much support as possible to families who are struggling through this period.

“Through our dedicated cost of living support line we have already helped hundreds of people, whether that is providing access to foodbanks or putting them in contact with services which provide financial support. We will also continue using our voice to lobby central government to increase and expand welfare provision during these unprecedented economic times.”