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Euston Foodbank: How foodbank is coping with Universal Credit and preparing for Christmas

PUBLISHED: 11:44 14 December 2018 | UPDATED: 11:52 14 December 2018

Foodbank user Eugene Atzoni selects fresh bread. Picture: Polly Hancock

Foodbank user Eugene Atzoni selects fresh bread. Picture: Polly Hancock

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To say Tuesday lunchtimes are frantic at Euston Foodbank is an understatement.

Volunteer manager Dorothea Hackman puts food in a basket for a client. Picture: Polly HancockVolunteer manager Dorothea Hackman puts food in a basket for a client. Picture: Polly Hancock

At 12pm, a stone’s throw from Euston station, the volunteer-run foodbank tucked away in Saint Pancras Church House opens its doors to clients.

In comes a mother, wearing a TfL “baby-on-board” badge, with her toddler daughter. Another, a man who has started living on the streets for the first time arrives, and Eugene Aztoni, who is currently undergoing radiotherapy, also turns up seeking help.

For the foodbank’s volunteer project manager, Dorothea Hackman, it’s another day at the office. She bustles around, firmly directing volunteers in her Australian tone as to what they should do next.

“We’re big believers in the ‘alpha female’ here, being in charge and leading it. I used to work at the college in Holmes Road, so I’m used to co-ordinating about ten different things at once,” she said.

Volunteer manager Dorothea Hackman with Food Bank user Eugene Atzori. Picture: Polly HancockVolunteer manager Dorothea Hackman with Food Bank user Eugene Atzori. Picture: Polly Hancock

“We’ll never turn people away. We’re supporting Eugene through his crisis which is linked to his treatment, and has been referred by the hospital. That’s what we do.”

Dorothea and other volunteers shuttle down the narrow corridor of food to get supplies to help people get the food and toiletries they need.

The clients come in and present their voucher to a volunteer. They then speak with them about their needs, and fill a shopping basket of goods. As well as having tinned food, the food bank also has fresh bread, fruit, and some refrigerated meat it gives out.

Once it’s been filled, they will then sit down with a volunteer and discuss their situation, before the client leaves.

Volunteer Max Perrone puts food in a basket for a client. Picture: Polly HancockVolunteer Max Perrone puts food in a basket for a client. Picture: Polly Hancock

The foodbank usually serves about 70 people a week. It opens on a Tuesday lunchtime, Thursday evening, and on both days at the weekend.

At a briefing by Camden Council in November on the issue, she said the foodbank in Lancing Street was cutting back on giving food parcels out - to stockpile in the face of Universal Credit.

She told the meeting there had been a 67 per cent increase in referrals since the new combined benefit had been introduced in Camden.

“We did put in some restriction on people who have been using the foodbank regularly. They can’t just use us for the weekly shop and have to try and find a long term solution.”

Dorothea told us she cut the numbers of food parcels given out a week to 50 as it allowed the food bank to assess and organise. Since the continued roll-out, the numbers have increased by around 25pc back to 100 people a week.

“It was absolutely the right thing to do, to take action when we did,” she said.

The latest roll-out in Camden on December 5 saw new applicants across the whole of Camden going on to Universal Credit. Current claimants will be moved on to the benefit through “managed migration” in the next few years. While it is due to come into place in 2020, Dorothea is sceptical of how effective it will be.

“If I managed this foodbank in the same way they are looking to manage migration, I would be closed down,” she said.

The foodbank is one of the Trussell Trust network of foodbanks across the country, and also works with others in Camden, as well as across London and Hertfordshire.

Dorothea first became involved with foodbanks in Camden at the Trussell Trust branch in Pratt Street. In her role at Netley Primary School in Euston, she heard about the extent of increasing childhood poverty in Camden. “I was told that one of the few things that could be done was foodbanks, so I decided to go along and help.” The Euston site opened in 2017.

Walking around the foodbank in Lancing Street, the team has been overwhelmed with donations. While the Ham&High was at the site, sixth formers from Maria Fidelis School dropped off a cartload of donations, including biscuits and tins. According to one of the teens, they make donations to the foodbank every few weeks. However, it’s the more occasional donors that can cause oversupply issues.

“Running a foodbank is like conducting an orchestra. If you even look at the brass section, they play loudly. If you ask people for donations, they just give you tins of beans.

“Everyone has a collection and does their bit at Christmas which is wonderful. However, it would be far better if people also collected throughout the year, because that’s when it can be a little bit more difficult.”

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