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Barnet food banks part two – “all we got were nine crates of aubergines and seven crates of bananas”

Investigative reporter Maya Sall takes an in depth look at Barnet’s food banks and their response to the cost of living crisis

A selection of fruit including bananas, a melon, a pineapple, pears and oranges
Barnet supermarkets are now less likely to donate fresh produce to food banks – (Photo by Powell Rasull on Unsplash)

Part one of this report looked at the changing needs of Barnet residents who are increasingly turning to food banks for help as the cost of living crisis deepens. 

However, as demand increases, Barnet’s food banks have not only had to diversify what they supply but also who they are supplied by. 

While many of Barnet’s food banks have had successful, long-term relationships with local supermarkets – St Barnabas in North Finchley, for example, has continually been supported by their local Tesco – other food banks are finding supermarkets’ generosity is stagnating.

For the past five years, The Rainbow Centre has worked closely with their local Waitrose, relying upon them to deliver fresh produce. 

However, Steve of The Rainbow Centre says the quality of the food they receive has now dropped off: “we just end up getting loads of croissants, and if we get any fruit or vegetables, it’s already out of date, or gone off, and we have to throw it away.”

Food bank suppliers can’t meet demand

As well as working with local supermarkets, around twenty of Barnet’s food banks are supplied by The Felix Project, a charity which distributes food throughout London’s food banks. 

However, my discussions with food banks suggested that the organisation has been struggling to meet increased demand. As Steve from The Rainbow Centre explains:  “We used to be at the end of their [The Felix’s Project’s] delivery circuit, and by the time they got to us, they had nothing left”, Steve informed me. 

Having raised the problem with the charity Steve felt little had changed: “last week all we got were nine crates of aubergines and seven crates of bananas – what meals are families going to make with that?”

Charlie Neal from The Felix Project told Barnet Post that the charity had expanded and restructured their distribution of food to meet local need but she admitted that: “to supply all the organisations on our waiting list we would need to dramatically up our food supplies.” 

Unsurprisingly given the wider picture, the number Barnet food banks on the The Felix Project waiting list is growing and – if The Felix Project were to support all the organisations on it – they would need not only an increase in food supplies, but also a dramatic increase in funding to sustain and grow their infrastructure of delivery drivers, volunteers and staff. 

Charlie explained: “Our costs have increased 25% in the last year and so we are currently struggling with a £2 million deficit trying to service the organisations we have now, so we need a lot more money on top of the food to start helping more.” 

It is clear that the fast-growing demand for food is leaving everyone stretched: local residents, the food banks that support them and the charities that support the food banks. 

As inflation bites: “how far will £10 go?”

In September 2022, Barnet Council provided additional funding for Barnet Food Hub – an organisation run by the Barnet Together Alliance to support local food banks – and also called on the Greater London Authority to provide local food banks with additional support, resulting in a £13,000 grant. 

However, while all available grants are welcome, they are soon swallowed up by the combination of rising demand and rising prices. 

As summarised by Dominic Stevenson of The Trussell Trust: “the challenge for food banks is always: ‘how far will £10 go?’

“Whereas before, food banks would have to feed five people with that tenner, now they’re having to feed 10. And, as we all know, that money doesn’t stretch as far as it used to.” 

Despite inflation dropping from 10.4% in February to 10.1% in March, slightly lower than the peak of 11.1% in October 2022, this still means prices are going up overall – and food prices specifically increased by 19.1% in the year to March. 

While funding helps, the challenges for Barnet’s food banks continue to grow. 

Maya Sall has written this report as part of The Centre for Investigative Journalism’s Collaborative Community Journalism programme, which is funded by Trust for London.

It is part of a three part series looking at Barnet food banks and their response to the cost of living crisis.

Part one looked at the changing needs of Barnet residents as the cost of living crisis deepens. 

Part three will look at the relationship between food banks and wider economic challenges. 

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