Northern Soul and People’s Powerhouse are continuing our partnership to share good new stories about businesses, people and communities coming together in the North of England during the COVID-19 crisis. As the country begins to loosen lockdown restrictions, we’re talking to Northerners doing excellent work across the region.

This week, we chat to Heather Shepard, foodbank coordinator at Tameside East Foodbank. The foodbank works with front-line professionals to provide three days worth of food to people facing crisis in the Tameside East area (Ashton-under-Lyne, Stalybridge and Dukinfield).

What inspired you to start Tameside East Foodbank?

The foodbank was formed in 2012 as a joint venture between New Life Church, Ashton-under-Lyne, Holy Trinity Church, Stalybridge and St John’s Church, Dukinfield, all working together towards stopping hunger in our local area. We are a charity operating as part of The Trussell Trust network.

What challenges have you faced during the COVID-19 pandemic?

In the early months, we saw a dramatic increase in the demand for the service coupled with a sharp decline in donations as people were unable to purchase key foodbank items due to panic buying. We were also unable to purchase in bulk which obviously left us with severe stock shortages and problems maintaining the service. Alongside this was the issue of keeping volunteers, clients and the public safe by avoiding close contact which meant we had to dramatically alter the way our service is provided.

Tameside East Foodbank.How has the community been affected by the crisis? 

The local community has been hugely affected by the crisis. Many people have found themselves needing the support of the foodbank for the first time due to a variety of reasons. Those who were shielding but not receiving government or local authority food parcels contacted us asking if we were able to help.

Early on in the crisis, we saw people who had lost jobs and were struggling to get by due to delays with Universal Credit. Many of those who were already struggling have been plunged into even more difficult circumstances and the lack of access to some of the other support they would usually rely on has been a real problem for many.

And how have they come together?

We have been blown away by the support of our local community. The donations of both food and money have been incredible and have allowed us to continue providing our service under challenging times. Many members of the public, businesses and other voluntary organisations have worked extremely well together to help meet the needs of those in their local community. Tameside East Foodbank.We were able to provide a delivery service thanks to support from our local British Gas team which was crucial to allow for safe distribution of food. Many of our regular volunteers had to step back in order to shield but those who were able to carry on, along with some new team members, did a phenomenal job of keeping our service going.

Have you been surprised by the reaction to your work during this time?

We have always received a lot of support from our local community but the level of support over this time has meant we feel incredibly appreciated. I think people have seen how easy it would be to fall into a situation where they need help and so, have valued our work even more than normal.

What does the loosening of lockdown restrictions mean to your organisation and how will you approach these new challenges?

The loosening of restrictions means that we are able to return to operating in a way more similar to our usual service. During the crisis, we had to move to operating out of one centre only but we are now able to open all three centres which means people can access us much easier in the way they used to.

With the loosening of lockdown, however, we anticipate another increase in demand for our service. We are preparing for this by closely monitoring stock levels and continuing to work closely with our local supermarket community champions to maintain adequate stocks of items. 

Tameside East Foodbank.What’s the most positive moment/thing you’ve experienced during the crisis?

We have had some incredible feedback from people who have used our service and wanted to thank us. This has been particularly lovely. One lady who had been through a terrible time and used our service for the first time was blown away by the food she received and commented that she could never thank us enough. This was great to hear as the foodbank exists to help people when they need it the most.

What does the ‘new normal’ mean to you?

Unfortunately, the ‘new normal’ currently doesn’t allow us to work as closely with clients as we would normally do. As well as providing food parcels we would usually provide a chat, a drink and some advice about other help which may be suitable for the client. We are looking at how and when we can start to add these things back into our centres.

The People's