As well as the town of Rotherham, the Rotherham Metropolitan Borough covers a collection of communities ranging from significant towns such as Maltby and Dinnington; former stand alone urban coalfield districts such as Wath upon Dearne and Swinton and many small villages with their own historic identities. We have over 25 Parish Councils and perhaps surprisingly, the Borough is around two thirds rural with large tracts of open countryside.
The borough has quite high levels of deprivation in some wards, major health inequalities throughout all areas, and high levels of disabilities and welfare dependency. The proposals contained in the Welfare Reform agenda are likely to have a devastating impact on many individuals and families in our communities. In recent times, unfortunately, the importance of food banks has been increasing. In recognition of this at my last annual cabinet portfolio reorganisation I asked that ‘Affordable Food’ be included in my list of responsibilities as Cabinet Member Health & Wellbeing.
At the end of financial year 2011/12 around £35K of one-off funding was obtained from NHS Rotherham. This was used to fund a project called ‘Food for People in Crisis’ (FFPIC). The emerging Rotherham Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) supported this at their March meeting along with a range of other funding to support 3rd Sector organisations which are contributing to Health & Wellbeing locally.
The FFPIC funding was given to Voluntary Action Rotherham who employed a project worker. After some further discussions an allocation was set aside for making small grants to support local organisations. FFPIC has organised meetings with the various groups who are running Foodbanks to try and develop a network. The NHS funding is soon to run out so a sustainable solution is needed to maintain this co-ordination, avoid duplication and ensure that there is fair access to Foodbanks across the borough and not just in pockets.
In Rotherham there are a number of organisations working to support residents in need of food. All of them operate on a shoe string, most are faith based, some seek to work Borough wide while others are governed by their constitutions to work in particular localities. Our Foodbanks include a town centre based group which provides hot meals and other support for homeless and very needy people. Other groups work from churches or Salvation Army premises in their own localities. There is a food bank which serves the whole Borough and an organisation called Food Aware works across South Yorkshire, recovering perfectly edible food from supermarkets & other shops which would otherwise be sent to landfill. Coverage is still rather patchy with some wards having several organisations working in them while other areas have little activity.
Most of our Foodbanks prefer to operate via referral from agencies or from professionals such as social workers or doctors or other NHS staff. This is due to demand and also to try to avoid any possible misuse or abuse. For this reason I will not give out their details although local people active in their communities will know all about them..
The United Kingdom is a very wealthy country yet increasing numbers of people have to rely on food banks to maintain a decent diet. As energy costs continue to increase the question of heating or eating is a real challenge faced each day by some of our citizens. The soup kitchens of the 1930s are back with us in today’s austerity Britain where the poorest appear to be paying for the financial crisis created by the richest.”