Supporting our Local Foodbank

I was delighted to spend one of the first spring-like lunchtimes of the year at Esher Civic Centre, talking about foodbanks. The event was an informal gathering run by the three Elmbridge foodbanks (Walton & Hersham Foodbank, East Elmbridge Foodbank and Cobham Area Foodbank) to update and inform foodbank voucher holders about guidelines for issuing foodbank vouchers and to answer any queries or concerns.

Walton Charity Kia donation.jpg

Talking to those attending it was clear that many people have the wrong idea about those who use foodbanks. Around 40% of foodbank users are in work. These are people who are working but simply cannot get paid enough to live properly. Housing in Elmbridge costs on average double that for the rest of England, which leads to a very expensive local cost of living. Many of those doing decent jobs but on national pay rates simply cannot afford to live here. Foodbanks are not the answer, but they are the best short-term solution we have. Nothing would please those that run and volunteer in foodbanks more than to close them down, but there seems little danger of that in the immediate future.

All three foodbanks were keen to get across the message that there is no limit to the number of vouchers a family can have. If those that distribute the vouchers think vouchers are needed they will be honoured.  All three foodbanks are members of the Trussell Trust network, which means users can redeem their voucher at any of the foodbanks – or indeed any Trussell Trust foodbank – if they are struggling to get to one that is open near them. 

Compared with this time last year, the store of food is low following a period of continual high demand. Nina Malyon, from Walton & Hersham Foodbank, reported that use of the foodbank had increased 40% in the last quarter. She suggested that people might want to ask their organisations to organise food donation events to help push food stores up. All the foodbanks will be happy to tell you what they are short of, but as Hugh Bryant from Cobham Foodbank said, those who are in food poverty are just like us - they don’t eat different or special food. Whatever we might miss if we didn’t have it, so will they!

Many at the event were concerned about the impact of Universal Credit, which will be getting general roll-out in Elmbridge later in the year, particularly following the impact the benefits ceiling is already having. All the signs are that this will lead to increased issues around food poverty and further demands on the foodbanks. Sadly, it seems that foodbanks are going to remain an important element in our communities for some time to come.

To contact Walton & Hersham Foodbank, to offer donations, volunteer to help or for further information, go to: https://waltonhersham.foodbank.org.uk/

Brian Creese
Walton Charity

 

BEAST FROM THE EAST 2 COMING OUR WAY!

Homeless (courtesy Rentstart).jpg

I sometimes wonder why it is that we can ignore something most of the time, then suddenly get very concerned for just a few days a year. I was thinking this last week, looking at the snow falling over the car park as the “beast from the east” brought snow and freezing conditions to our sheltered southern climes. Predictably, for the first time since Christmas, the news focused on the plight of people who were homeless. Equally predictably, as the weather warmed and the news moved its focus, the homeless again became invisible to most of us.

As far back as the 17th century Walton Charity was providing housing for local people – as well as essential household items, food and clothing. It is sobering to realise that despite the apparent wealth of Elmbridge, the lack of affordable housing, food and basic household amenities mean that life for many remains an ever increasing challenge.

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Having a stable and affordable home is surely one of the most basic necessities of life. With house prices rising higher and higher relative to wages and a shortage of affordable homes there is a sense of an inevitable worsening of this situation. Outside of London, Elmbridge is the most difficult place to get a ‘foot on the property ladder’ with private rents even more unaffordable for many.

We need to work together as a local community to work out where people in lower paid jobs can live. Local teachers, nursery workers, care staff do not have the benefit of London-level salaries – but they are forced to pay London-level rents and house prices. It seems that people are moving out of the area because they can no longer afford to live in Elmbridge, and recruitment for these roles is ever more difficult.

Is this what we really want as a local community? Change is never easy and locally we need to ask ourselves whether we are content to allow the status quo. 57% of the Borough of Elmbridge is Green Belt and nearly 10% is public open space and we would all want to retain this in an ideal world. But it is not an ideal world and with an ever worsening housing crisis on our doorstep, Elmbridge is one of places with the greatest need for new homes.

Surely it should be possible to preserve a decent environment to live in and build enough homes for our children and those we need to make our community work? By not permitting and managing a controlled development of affordable homes for our local community we continue to constrict supply and subsequently force up land and house prices. This denies decent local homes to people on low and middle incomes and ultimately forces people into long commutes and limits access to local workers. We need to embrace bold and imaginative ideas, like community led housing developments, cohousing and living spaces that are retained in the community.

people-homeless-man-male.jpg

The homeless, who periodically come into view, are simply the lowest tier of those caught up in this housing crisis. Their plight is seen by the media as extraordinary, an aberration in our wealthy state. Yet they simply represent the worst aspect of a crisis that affects so many of our young (and not so young), those who are not lucky enough to inherit property or the income/deposit to get a mortgage. Not only the homeless, but the hard pressed renters, those struggling with debt and those saving up for decades for an improbable dream of home ownership are all with us, all the time, even when the spring weather arrives. We, at least, try not to forget them.

I sometimes wonder why it is that we can ignore something most of the year, then suddenly get very concerned for just a few days. I was thinking this just last week, looking at the snow falling over the car park as the “beast from the east” brought snow and freezing conditions to our sheltered southern climes. Predictably, the news focused on the plight of people who were homeless for the first time since Christmas. Equally predictably, as the weather warms up and the news moves its focus, the homeless will again become invisible to most of us.

As far back as the 17th century Walton Charity was providing housing for local people – as well as essential household items, food and clothing. It is sobering to realise that despite the apparent wealth of Elmbridge, the lack of affordable housing, food and basic household amenities mean that life for many remains an ever increasing challenge.

Having a stable and affordable home is surely one of the most basic necessities of life. With house prices rising higher and higher relative to wages and a shortage of affordable homes there is a sense of an inevitable worsening of this situation. Outside of London, Elmbridge is the most difficult place to get a ‘foot on the property ladder’ with private rents even more unaffordable for many.

As a local community, we need to work together to work out where people in lower paid jobs can live. Local teachers, nursery workers, care staff do not have the benefit from London-level salaries – but they are forced to pay London-level rents and house prices. It seems that people are moving out of the area because they can no longer afford to live in Elmbridge, and recruitment for these roles is ever more challenging.

Is this what we really want as a local community? Change is never easy and locally we need to ask ourselves whether we are content to allow the status quo. 57% of the Borough of Elmbridge is Green Belt and nearly 10% is public open space and we would all want to retain this in an ideal world. But it is not an ideal world and with an ever-worsening housing crisis on our doorstep, Elmbridge is one of the places with the greatest need for new homes.

Surely it should be possible to preserve a decent environment to live in and build enough homes for our children and those we need to make our community work?

By not permitting and managing a controlled development of affordable homes for our local community we continue to constrict supply and subsequently force up land and house prices. This denies decent local homes to people on low and middle incomes and ultimately forces people into long commutes and limits access to local workers. We need bold and imaginative ideas, like community-led housing developments, cohousing and living spaces that are retained in the community.

The homeless, who periodically come into view, are simply the lowest tier of this housing crisis. Their plight is seen by the media as extraordinary, an aberration in our wealthy state. Yet it is simply the worst aspect of a crisis that affects so many of our young (and not so young), those who are not lucky enough to inherit property or the income/deposit to get a mortgage. Not only the homeless but the hard-pressed renters, those struggling with debt and those saving up for decades for an improbable dream of home ownership are all with us, all the time, even when the spring weather arrives. We, at least, try not to forget them.
Jackie Lodge
Chief Executive, Walton Charity

www.waltoncharity.org.uk