“We don’t want to turn people away”

27 Apr 2020

The coronavirus crisis has led to an increase in demand at food banks. Here, Meg Hillier MP and Melanie Rochford of Hackney Foodbank, explain how organisations like Investec can help

The message from food bank teams in some of London’s most deprived communities is clear: the coronavirus crisis has led to an increase in the number of vulnerable families unable to meet their basic needs. We must help.  
Melanie Rochford, head of business and development for Hackney Foodbank, estimates there has been a 50 per cent increase in people claiming food parcels in the area since social distancing began.
“Last year the primary trigger for food poverty was low pay. We are now seeing even more people coming to the service because they are unemployed and struggling to make ends meet. Businesses can’t afford to keep them on,” she said. 
Hackney and the surrounding boroughs were already among the poorest areas in the country. In 2019, 747 single parents alone registered for the Hackney Foodbank and a quarter of users were primary school children.  
Rochford shared her experience in a discussion with Meg Hillier, MP for Hackney South and Shoreditch, and Deborah Sayagh, head of strategic client partnerships at Investec.
“I’m now being contacted by people who have never got in touch before,” agreed Hillier. “We must break down assumptions about who uses a food bank. These are proud working people in a desperate situation.” 
mel rochford of hackney foodbank

It’s been an absolute lifeline. I don’t know what we would have done without it.

Melanie Rochford, Hackney Foodbank

How we can help

In response to the crisis, Investec has announced that it will fully fund and stock food banks in the local boroughs of Hackney, Newham and Tower Hamlets for at least three months. The commitment will see more than 50,000 food items donated each week to those in difficulty. Individuals will receive non-perishable goods such as dried pasta, rice and toiletries, as well as sweet treats. “It’s an absolute lifeline,” said Rochford. “I don’t know what we would have done without it.” 
Foodbanks have struggled to get the supplies they need through normal means. “We simply couldn’t get the volume of items we needed from local supermarkets,” admitted Rochford. Shockingly, her team were also abused while shopping. “I was sworn at while filling a trolley when wearing a Hackney Foodbank fleece. Some shoppers don’t seem to care for others in dire straits,” she said. 

We encourage other organisations to look at how they can leverage their own networks to help people in need at this time.

Deborah Sayagh, Investec Private Banking

Investec has organised its deliveries through a partnership with Aldi. “I contacted our clients in the food and drink sector who connected me with the senior team at Aldi. I had my first call with Meg on a Friday and ten days later the first delivery happened,” explained Deborah Sayagh. “We encourage other organisations to look at how they can leverage their own networks to help people in need at this time.”
Staffed with an army of volunteers from the local community – many of whom have been furloughed from their jobs – Rochford says the third week of the Hackney Foodbank initiative is “going well” and lessons are being learned for the future. The next challenge is to make sure that people who now find themselves in need are aware of the service. 
“One of the main issues is digital connectivity,” says Hillier. “There is a digital divide in these boroughs and many people do not have home Internet access or data on a mobile phone, so it is more difficult for them to access help now that libraries are closed.”
Investec has long-standing relationships in the three boroughs nearest its London offices and supports causes working to improve education, entrepreneurship and the environment for local people. Faced with the food crisis, “within minutes we said ‘we must do this’,” said Sayagh. “It’s been an honour to be able to help and we will continue to find ways to do so.” Support will be extended beyond the initial 12-week period if necessary. 
Hillier hopes other individuals and organisations will take the same approach: “My hope is that people won’t forget the reality of the crisis after coronavirus,” she concluded. “Long-term relationships are essential and can change lives.”