Scattering Kindness: Stoke-on-Trent Foodbank AGM & Launch of 100 Friends

I love the foodbank AGM. Is that weird? It sounds a bit odd, and I definitely wouldn’t say the same for any other Annual General Meeting, but this one is different. It’s a real celebration of all the good work Stoke-on-Trent Foodbank is doing in the city…

On Friday morning we kicked off with a signposting marketplace with all sorts of organisations that are working to support those in need within our city. This allows our distribution centre volunteers to find out more information about our partners in order to help our guests with their own individual crises more effectively. From the foodbank stall that I was manning in the corner of the room I could see Saltbox, Gingerbread, ASHA & Changes to name but a few, and with more than 25 organisations represented overall there are obviously far more than those that I’ve mentioned. I felt so humbled to be part of a community that has been such a key facilitator in flexible, multi-organisational working in Stoke-on-Trent, as it is only by working together that we can begin to make real differences in people’s lives.

My favourite part of the event was undoubtedly being able to launch the “100 Friends” campaign. Having worked on the campaign for the past few months as part of Foodbank’s communications team, it was so fantastic (and somewhat of a relief!) to finally get things off the ground. The idea is simple. We are asking our volunteers and supporters to each find one person they can encourage to become a ‘friend of foodbank’ and commit to regular financial giving. We need these commitments in order to become a more self-sustaining charity and to be able to plan more effectively for our future, so please get thinking about the people in your life who might be interested in becoming a friend of foodbank. To get your hands on an information pack, get in touch with the foodbank team at: info@stokeontrent.foodbank.org.uk. 

Finally, to hear during the formal AGM meeting that Stoke-on-Trent Foodbank is now considered to be an example of ‘best practice’ by the Trussell Trust Regional Development Coordinator was the cherry on top of a fantastic day. Our annual report demonstrated that we support our guests with so much more than food; with practical advice through Saltbox’s ‘Money Matters’ for example; with healthy eating & living information through ‘Cook & Eat’ sessions; with Christmas hampers and time and most importantly, a listening ear.

Nevertheless, there is still work to be done. If we want to continue supporting those in the greatest need across the city, we need to engage even more people in the work that we do. So whatever you can do, do it for Stoke-on-Trent Foodbank and help us to support local people in crisis!

In the news: Stoke-on-Trent’s New Years Resolutions

Having ‘liked’ The Sentinel on Facebook usually means I’m bombarded with links to see “who’s been up in court?” (as if that’s an article I’ve been waiting all day to read!) or their photographer’s images of whoever was having a “Big Night Out: Hanley” last night. However, on the odd occasion, something positive appears and this particular article has caught my imagination somewhat.

One of the Sentinel’s columnists, Jenny Amphlett, has dedicated her “Personally Speaking” article to 10 new years resolutions that she hopes Stoke-on-Trent will embrace in 2016 and for the most part, I think I’m inclined to agree with her choices. Here’s my take on Jenny’s hopes for 2016…

1. Give up the booze.” I think the implication here is putting an end to the street drinking that tends to plague the city centre each evening (or earlier!) rather than a universal measure across the whole city and Jenny makes a good point. So many violent and, sadly, fatal incidents have occurred inside and  outside of Hanley’s drinking establishments- just last week the security staff at Fiction were injured in a stabbing. I’m confident that post-10pm Hanley would be a far more enjoyable place for everyone if a couple drinks didn’t always turn sour. A shout out to Stoke’s Street Chaplains seems appropriate here, who continue to provide a peaceful presence and practical assistance (free flip flops for all those struggling to walk in their heels!) on Saturday nights.

2. Healthy eating!” I reckon I’ll be changing this to an all round “Healthy living!”It might seem like a bit of a cop out, as surely everyone in the UK and not just Stokies should be trying to live a healthy life, but we seem to find this particularly challenging as more than 25% of the city’s population is considered obese. This statistic has always confused me somewhat as considering everyone goes absolutely bonkers for football, we clearly aren’t playing enough of it ourselves…however, we’ve still got time to change this. We are officially a European city of Sport for 2016 and free gym sessions are already being planned for January to celebrate this title which sounds like the perfect opportunity to dig out the sports gear and trainers.

3. Get out of debt!” “Using our money more wisely” is perhaps a better resolution for both our city council and ourselves. I’d like to see our council members spending money right across our region rather than just focusing primarily on Hanley which seems to be the trend at the moment. On an individual level, we have such a great range of independent businesses that need our support if they are to keep trading so rather than having a coffee in Starbucks, why not try one of our local cafes (like (tsp.) – see my review elsewhere on my blog) or a meal out at an independent restaurant rather than a major chain? Spending our money locally will help to strengthen our city’s economy and that will have benefits for everyone!

4. Quit Smoking!” I couldn’t agree more with this one. Aside from the obvious health benefits, it would mean actually being able to walk into Hanley Bus Station without having to walk through the thick cloud of stale smoke that seems to linger there 24/7…it’s the little things!

5. Learn something new!” This is another of Jenny’s suggestions I am fully on board with. We have so many museums, galleries and other cultural attractions right on our doorstep that we barely take the time to visit ourselves. Since my family moved back to Stoke, we’ve dragged many of our friends to the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery and each of them enjoyed themselves AND learned something they didn’t already know about Stoke-on-Trent. Alternatively, if you’re fed up to the back teeth of hearing about pottery, why not go along to one of Staffordshire University’s public lectures and learn about something entirely different?

6. Help others!” If I’m being honest, I think that we already do a brilliant job of helping others and looking after one another in Stoke and our foodbank is the perfect example of this, with donations and volunteers coming from right across the city in order to ensure that nobody goes hungry. Nevertheless, new causes continue to spring up (Stoke Winter Night Shelter perhaps?) while others find it harder to continue the work they’re doing (North Staffordshire Adventure Playground, for example), so let’s make 2016 the year in which new projects start with a bang and struggling organisations are rallied round and fully supported.

“7. Spend more time with friends and family.” This one is pretty self-explanatory but in case you needed some ideas on exactly how to spend time with them, looking back over this list gives you plenty of opportunity! Treat your mum to an independent coffee; drag your out-of-town friends round one of our museums or take your children to paint a pot at Emma Bridgewater.

8. Boost your self-esteem!” Jenny highlights my number one pet hate regarding Stoke-on-Trent in this paragraph: we are absolutely outraged whenever Stoke tops negative national lists, yet usually we are the first ones to belittle ourselves and whinge about X, Y and Z. She’s absolutely right in saying that changing the rest of the UK’s perspective on Stoke has to start with us. We’ve got so much to be proud of (and not just Robbie Williams like most people would have you think!) that it’s time we started to let everyone know and perhaps more importantly, believe it ourselves.

9. Make more friends! ” We are no longer 6 seperate towns, we are a city of, collectively, nearly 250, 000 people. There’s no reason to restrict ourselves to operating solely in our tiny little neighbourhood anymore or treat a Burslemite who’s wandering round Longton like a complete outsider. Let’s all work together rather than competing with each other in 2016.

10. Play nicely!” This final resolution refers to the “friendly” rivalry between Stoke City and Port Vale and pleas for a time where each team can both celebrate the successes and mourn the losses of the other, however like Jenny, I think this might be one dream too far…

Happy new year, everyone! I hope 2016 brings you, and Stoke-on-Trent, health, hope and happiness…

 


The original article this post is based on:  http://m.stokesentinel.co.uk/PERSONALLY-SPEAKING/story-28430671-detail/story.html

Street Chaplains website: http://www.streetchaplains.org.uk

Stoke’s obesity crisis: http://m.stokesentinel.co.uk/City-gripped-obesity-crisis/story-20317529-detail/story.html

Free gym classes: http://m.stokesentinel.co.uk/Free-gym-sessions-kick-start-city-s-status/story-28427772-detail/story.html

A Christmas Round Up!

Considering Christmas Day is now all but one week away (how is that possible?) I thought it would be a good time for a quick round up of the positive things that have been happening in Stoke in the run up to Christmas.

Having returned home from university for the Christmas break, I couldn’t help but grin after walking into Wesley Hall Church for Monday night Foodbank distribution and finding over 20 Christmas hampers ready to gift to our guests. They were all bursting at the seams with chocolates, biscuits, puddings and crackers and had been wrapped up so fancily in cellophane and ribbon. (Why can I not wrap with cellophane without it ripping or using too much cellotape?) Judging from their facebook page, all kinds of community groups have been helping to wrap these parcels from schoolchildren and churches to the YMCA and Hanley’s firefighters, making the hampers even more special. Setting them down on the table next to the guests’ food parcels and seeing their reaction was wonderful. Stoke-on-Trent Foodbank’s ceaseless support for the guests that we welcome through our doors continues to blow me away, and no time more so than at Christmas.

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Christmas Hampers from Stoke-on-Trent Foodbanks

Another piece of good news in time for the festive period comes in the form of a concrete plan of action for the proposed winter night shelter. Stoke-on-Trent Winter Night Shelter [Pilot Project] will open its doors on Saturday 16th January 2016 at Swan Bank Church, Burslem and continue every Saturday throughout January and February, with the aim of seeing how things progress and where things take us. For further information, including volunteering opportunities, check out the Facebook page (link below) and direct all emails to stokewinternightshelter@gmail.com.

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Stoke-on-Trent Winter Night Shelter

Haywood Academy and Sixth Form have provided one last good news story as only a couple of days ago, they released plans to use the iconic ‘Burslem School of Art’ building to deliver some of their sixth form classes from, including the use of specialist creative facilities like photography areas and art rooms. What a fabulous use for one of Stoke’s heritage buildings!

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For great updates on SOT Foodbank’s Christmas Hampers: https://www.facebook.com/Stoke-on-Trent-Foodbank-379733792038148/?fref=ts

Stoke-on-Trent Winter Night Shelter’s Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/SOTWinterNightShelter/

The Sentinel article on Haywood’s expansion: http://www.stokesentinel.co.uk/Iconic-listed-building-turned-sixth-form-centre/story-28348117-detail/story.html

SCATTERING KINDNESS: West End Methodist Church, Community Centre & Cafe

On the corner of London Road and James Street in the Boothen/Stoke/nearly Oakhill area of the city used to stand The West End Pub. Said pub is now unrecognisable as it has been transformed completely into a new church, along with a cafe and community centre. The congregations at Trent Vale Methodist church and Wesley Methodist Church sold their buildings and joined together a few years ago with the vision of finding a new site from which they could serve their community. After purchasing the derelict pub and a great deal of fundraising, building work & hard graft, they opened in January 2015 receiving a great response.

The West End Methodist Church

The West End Methodist Church

Since then, the Cafe West End has gone from strength to strength. To say the atmosphere is welcoming is a gross understatement; I really am confident that any kind of person could walk right in from London Road and be treated like an old friend. Unsurprisingly perhaps, as clearly this is what happens when you run a coffee shop to serve the needs of your community rather than to make a profit. While the cafe prices might be cheap (80p for a mug of tea, £2 cappuccinos & £2 bacon sandwiches) to ensure everyone can enjoy the food & drinks on offer, the quality is as top notch as any other outlet in the hospitality sector. The cappuccinos require a particularly special mention as Cafe West End will be joining tsp. Cafe, Hanley for winning the ‘excellent-coffee-without-the-funny-aftertaste’ award! An important accolade, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Cafe West End

Cafe West End

Nonetheless, meeting the needs of the neighbourhood goes far beyond the new swanky cafe for the congregation at West End which can be seen in the variety of projects and activities that are both already established and in the pipeline. Playhouse, a group for pre-schoolers and their parents & carers, provides a safe space for toddlers to play together and the potential for their carers to make new friends too. Similarly, ‘Family, Fun & Food’ offers a variety of activities and a hot meal for all ages to enjoy. In times when family life has become so hectic and chaotic, these kinds of occasions bring an opportunity for families to spend time together. There are also plans to establish a distribution centre for the Stoke-on-Trent Foodbank at the church, bringing the emergency supplies that foodbank gives a little bit closer to Stoke town, Boothen, Oakhill and other nearby areas whose nearest distribution centre currently is Temple Street, Fenton.

As you can see from the previous paragraphs, if there’s one thing that jumps out at you when visiting the West End it’s the overwhelming desire that exists to do good in the ‘hood. Every inch of space in the new building has been carefully planned and designed in order to achieve the most good possible for the most people possible and that is an incredible witness to the faith that this project was built on. So if you’re ever passing by or in the Stoke/Boothen/nearly Oakhill vicinity, I’m sure the folk at the West End would love to welcome you and share a cake!


The West End Methodist Church & cafe opening times: http://www.westendmethodistchurchstoke.org/ 

Stoke-on-Trent Foodbankhttp://stokeontrent.foodbank.org.uk/

SCATTERING KINDNESS: Stoke-on-Trent Foodbank

I’d be surprised if you haven’t heard about the UK foodbank movement in some guise or other. They’ve been a popular, if somewhat controversial media topic; discussed in newspapers, on tv and everything else in between. In short, EVERYONE has been talking about them (aside from the Conservative party government, it seems) and considering the incredible work that they do with people all across the country in their time of crisis, the media storm seems well-deserved.

A report published by the Trussell Trust (the biggest foodbank charity in the UK and the one which Stoke-on-Trent’s foodbank is associated with) in April 2015 showed that foodbank use in the 2014/2015 year topped 1 million people for the first time since they began operating. They managed to help those 1 million people that had been failed by the ConDem government and ensured that adults and children alike didn’t go hungry in their most desperate times with Stoke-on-Trent foodbank supporting 10,371 of those 1 million people.

Stoke-on-Trent foodbank currently has 13 different distribution centres (i.e. venues in which food is given out to our guests) which open at 15 different times each week in locations all across the city. It’s pretty incredible that there are sufficient numbers of volunteers to distribute food for 29 hours every week and it makes me proud to be part of this wonderful organisation.

In an average distribution session, we meet guests with a wide range of different struggles that often go far beyond an immediate hunger. They are invited in for a drink (and often, a rest!) while a volunteer chats with them about their food voucher, along with anything else that we could possibly offer assistance with.Volunteers running around trying to find nappies or blankets or toys is a common sight, as is our front-of-house volunteers signposting our guests to other organisations that may be able to offer them support. Watching the kindness and patience that our volunteers so freely give to every guest that enters our doors makes me want to dance around the room with joy. In many cases, our guests have spent the day as just another number in whatever system has let them down and so the genuine concern and care that Stoke-on-Trent foodbank provides is a welcome, but long overdue, change of pace for a number of our guests.

The other aspect of Stoke-on-Trent foodbank that will never cease to amaze me is the sheer number of donations that it receives from fellow Stokies. Whether it’s faith groups, schools, businesses or just fabulous individuals, the generosity of this city is overwhelming. In the 2014 Harvest period alone, over 12,000kg of food was donated and at the November Tesco food drive, Tesco shoppers who don’t donate regularly to the foodbank collected over 4,500kg of food. Our city goes even further at Christmas and Easter when we are inundated with advent calenders, mince pies and Easter eggs so that no one misses out on the festivity. Clearly, the politics of fear & self-interest that the Tories have tried to encourage is failing here in Stoke-on-Trent; people are not ready to condemn their friends, neighbours and even total strangers with labels like ‘scrounger’ and that is certainly something worth celebrating.

The past 5 years have been cruel for so many people that are struggling to make ends meet and this will certainly be emulated now that the Tories have full reign. I heard on the radio earlier that around 13 million families will be worse off under this government’s budget and yet, as angry as that makes me, Stoke-on-Trent foodbank fills me with confidence that those who are struggling the most in our city will be able to access the help and support that they need. Our government, MPs and leaders can debate foodbanks, whether there’s a need for them and what they achieve all they like. Who cares, they can even continue to refuse to investigate hunger and foodbank usage in the UK and keep denying it’s even a problem. But while they do that, SOT foodbank, The Trussell Trust & a whole host of other hunger & poverty fighting organisations will actually be here doing something, taking the action and meeting the need.

From a recent, national, weekend-long food drive organised by Tesco

From a recent, national, weekend-long food drive organised by Tesco


Stoke-on-Trent Foodbankhttp://stokeontrent.foodbank.org.uk/ 

The Trussell Trusthttp://www.trusselltrust.org/ 

The “Investigate UK hunger & foodbank usage petition”: numerous posts on http://agirlcalledjack.com/