IN 2008, just before the credit crunch began to take effect, a group of people questioned whether Colchester would need a foodbank to relieve the financial burden on families.

By November 2009, it was a reality and Colchester Foodbank became the 33rd foodbank in the country.

Initially the food, distributed by Colchester Council, was stored at the Big Yellow Storage Company.

Ten years on and the foodbank’s new home, at Moorside Business Park, is the busiest foodbank in Essex.

It meant in December 2015, a partner foodbank in Brightlingsea was launched, followed by one in Wivenhoe in 2017.

As the years have gone by, the demand has not abated. In truth, Colchester Foodbank needs all the support it can get.

In the first six months of this year it fed 4,106 people, compared to the first six months of 2018 when 3,144 people were fed.

The numbers keep rising, with only 2,832 people fed in 2017’s first six months.

It is not just about feeding families, but also giving practical support, emotional attentiveness and signposting for extra help.

The foodbank’s long-term goal is to shut down in the hope one day its services will not be needed. However, the reality is the number of clients it is seeing on a daily basis continues to increase.

Anne Barney, lead volunteer at Colchester Foodbank, said: “In the run up to last Christmas we had between 40 and 49 clients a day, the most we had ever received.

“At other times of the year it can be between 20 and 30 a day – especially towards the end of the month.

“We had paramedics turn up to collect a parcel for a lady who had fallen in the town. In discussion with the paramedics, we discovered the lady had been surviving on sugared water whilst waiting for her money to arrive, they’d taken her home and found all her cupboards were bare.

“Universal Credit still continues to be the main problem our clients talk about, whether the clients are still awaiting payments or the payments have changed.

“It can be quite a shock when there is less money available compared to what they thought would be paid.”

Last year the Trussell Trust, which manages the network of foodbanks, successfully campaigned for the six-week wait for Universal Credit to be reduced.

Michael Beckett, chief officer at Colchester Foodbank, said: “Colchester Foodbank along with other foodbanks produced evidence that showed the Government waiting six weeks for Universal Credit money to come through was causing people to become destitute.

“We have had a small victory last year in that the Government announced the reduction to five weeks.

“This year, Colchester Foodbank produced evidence that showed waiting five weeks was still too long.

“The Government knows this wait can be reduced and is now doing it in Halifax. We would love the government to pilot shorter waiting times in Colchester too for the sake of our clients.”

The uncertainty of Brexit also leaves the foodbank in limbo.

Mr Beckett added: “We don’t know what Brexit will look like. It could barely be a discernible ripple in our demand which we certainly hope it to be.

“The worst is it being a tsunami of demand with so much churn in the markets all happening at once, flooding us with people in need.

“Until we have some sort of clarity from the Government as to their exact plans, not mere optimistic platitudes, our public health and social welfare charity has a responsibility to plan for the worst.”

The foodbank was gifted a larger warehouse at the School Farm Buildings industrial estate in Langham.

Cardea Homes provided the warehouse, as well as a shop front to support children which will be called the Family Hope Hub in North Station Road, Colchester.

The foodbank launched a separate campaign to buy a new warehouse last year. So far £45,000 has been raised for a new premises.

Mr Beckett said: “We are supporting more people than ever before – we’re on course for well over 8,000 this year.

“We mapped our highest demand postcodes and Greenstead was our number one hotspot with Hythe, New Town and Monkwick closely following. We’re targeting increasing service provision directly in these areas.”

People from all walks of life have used the foodbank and organisations benefitting include the women’s refuge, Citizen’s Advice and Shelter.

Amanda Kirke, secretary for the Colchester People’s Assembly, said: “After nine years of austerity cuts even a relatively wealthy town like Colchester is now feeling the devastating effects.

“Whilst we welcome the invaluable support we cannot allow the need for foodbanks to become a normal part of our community.

“Central government austerity cuts have always been a political choice and not an economic necessity. We look forward to the day when this disastrous and cruel policy is consigned to the dustbin of history.”

Everyone hopes one day foodbanks will become unnecessary but, for now at least, they are crucial.

  •  The footbank needs drivers to collect donations from Co-op stores in the Colchester area. Call 01206 621998 for information.