Harrogate's hidden hunger: Food banks preparing for busy winter as demand rises

Crowned as one of the richest places in Yorkshire, Harrogate is famous for its spa scene, beautiful gardens and busy shopping streets.

Friday, 5th November 2021, 3:30 pm
Updated Friday, 5th November 2021, 3:32 pm
Volunteers at Harrogate District Foodbank.

It's not where you would expect to find families struggling to afford food, but the project manager of Harrogate District Foodbank says people are often "shocked" to see how many are in need of help.

Dawn Pearson, who started in her role during the pandemic, said the food bank has fed around 16,000 people since opening eight years ago - equivalent to around 10% of the district's population.

And she said demand is only rising due to the climbing cost of living and people's financial worries - with 120 struggling individuals coming forward for help in a single week in October.

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Dawn Pearson, project manager at Harrogate District Foodbank.

This included a healthcare worker recently out of employment and Mrs Pearson said perceptions of food banks can often create false stereotypes of those who rely on them.

"These are just ordinary folk who can't make ends meet", she said.

"We had one family in recently - the mum was a healthcare worker and just felt weighed down and because of that she had some anxiety and mental health issues.

"She is just a normal mum and didn't know where to turn.

"There are a lot of people out there like this at the moment and I don't know how it is ever going to get any better."

After a busy period earlier in the pandemic, the food bank at Mowbray Community Church is now preparing for winter which Mrs Pearson said is "always a busy time".

Rising gas, food and fuel prices, and the end of the £20 uplift in Universal Credit are just some of the reasons why she said a growing number of people are asking for emergency food help.

"Now that we are leading up to Christmas, people are also struggling because they have more expensive bills and are trying to buy presents for their families," Mrs Pearson said.

"Winter is always a busy time, but we have got a big surplus of food so we are well prepared.

"It always astounds us how many donations come in during this period. We can't thank people enough."

As much as the generosity of donors always shines through, the growing need for food banks has become an uncomfortable underbelly of society which many people would rather shy away from.

But the scale of the problem can be seen in the flesh with the recent opening of a new food bank at Life Destiny Church in Starbeck which became the third centre in the district seeded by the Trussell Trust.

It opened earlier in the pandemic when the usual voucher system of distributing food was removed in response to increased demand.

Mrs Pearson said: "The Starbeck site is doing well. It shouldn't do well, but it is definitely needed there.

"Usually it is three vouchers in a six month period for people, but during the pandemic we didn't turn anybody away. People were allowed to just come in and we helped everybody.

"Because there was more need, we were so lucky that our donations increased as well.

"We are really blessed by everyone who donates to us."

The Trussell Trust supports more than 1,200 centres across the UK and has a vision of a world where no food banks are needed.

It says it takes much more than food to end hunger and that a fairer and more generous welfare system would be a start of the solution.

But the answer to exactly how this could be achieved is complex and one which Mrs Pearson says lies in the hands of politicians.

She said: "I don't know the answer as I'm not a politician. But what I do know is that for the foreseeable future there is going to be a need for food banks."

For information on how to get support or donate go to www.harrogatedistrict.foodbank.org.uk

By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporter