Rest in peace, my little food sharing Hut.

The door of the Hut was never locked. I considered it, after a couple of people had a party in there one night and left a bit of a mess, but it always felt wrong to put it under lock and key. 

We filled the Hut Monday to Friday with food rescued by myself and my volunteers from the instore waste bins at Lidl. We didn’t seek funding for what we did because we didn’t want to play by anyone’s rules. We also wanted to prove that anyone could do what we did with just a few volunteers and a couple of cars. 

We passionately believed that no one should need to prove themselves worthy of accepting food rescued from the bins. That’s why I fought so hard against people who moaned about the worthy and the unworthy.

In the early days someone posted on a local Facebook page that they’d seen a local drug addict take a whole tray of doughnuts from the Hut one morning. I asked if they knew where the addict lived and if they could message me the address. Then I posted on the page that I would deliver the food to the drug addict from then on if their presence at the Hut upset people so much. 

The other reason why I was determined the food would be free to everyone was because I knew the food aid system up here in Burnley and Pendle wasn’t working. 
Yes, there were plenty of volunteers in food banks here who were working tirelessly and for all the right reasons but because of the ridiculous referral system the majority of people in need would never qualify for a food parcel. 

I knew that if the posh lady popped into my hut to see if there was any coriander for her curry then it meant the little old man desperate for a few veggies to make soup would go in there without feeling humiliated. 

All those food banks who needed funding to pay for their buildings, their directors, their transport and their utilities; they all had to provide lists of the worthy (including names, addresses and dates of birth) to secure more funding. Would you want to give all your details to an organisation who could call social services at any moment to report you for not being able to feed your children? 

There are millions using foodbanks according to the official figures (who, incidentally, only count users of the Trussell Trust foodbanks) but there are millions more who are literally starving because they either wouldn’t meet the criteria for a food parcel referral or would simply not have a clue how to go about it. These are the people who used my hut and the people I have now abandoned. 

I wanted to prove to the county council and the public health department that the food aid system wasn’t working and the pensioners queuing at my hut for a loaf of bread and a few vegetables to make soup proved there was a problem. 

The teenager who told me her family relied on the Hut after her dad had died suddenly leaving four kids proved there was a problem. 

The many, many families who lived on what they found in the Hut after tax credits balls-ups left them without money for up to six months at a time, proved there was a problem.

Naively I believed that if I proved there was a problem then something would be done about it. 

A year before I’d got the deal with Lidl, I was bringing over waste fruit and veg from the Manchester wholesale market, rescued through Fareshare. Delivering on the streets from the back of my people carrier gave me a very good insight into what was going on out there and the problems people were facing. I got to know many families on a very personal basis and I’ve made loads of amazing friends along the way. 

Since those early days I’ve had meetings with public health directors and county councillors and sent reports telling them how bad poverty was out there and the reasons why. 

I did this because I felt they had a duty to know and I was in a position to give them an insight. In the early days, the public health director who I liased with told me that everyone in her department kept asking her what I wanted and why I was giving up my free time to write unpaid reports. My reasons were simple. I wanted things to be better. I didn’t want funding, I didn’t want a pat on the back, I wanted the departments supposedly responsible for keeping the population alive and healthy to have some information from the streets to go with all their statistics and university written reports. 

Naively, I believed they were listening. They asked me to speak at their food poverty conferences, they agreed that a supermarket card system was a better way of food aid provision than supporting a whole industry of food banks. 

Sometimes I had to take extreme measures to get my point across like the time I arrived at a councillor’s home and dumped the rotting contents of a food parcel on his black marble kitchen worktops. This was a food parcel that our council funded at £26 a time. It contained £3.12 worth of food.

I watched from the sidelines and waited for things to get better. They got worse. My hut became famous. The BBC made a film about it and suddenly everyone wanted to be a part of it. We began filling schools and nurseries and OAP homes and then when the DWP refused to let us put food  into the job centre we gave it away from outside their door. When one of the jobcentre workers came out and told us he was starving because he couldn’t make ends meet we wondered what the hell was going on. He was on the Work Fare programme, working five days a week to ‘earn’ his benefits and he was hungry.  

When the jobcentre manager came out and told us she commended what we were doing, a little bit of me died.

I have a friend, Charlotte Hughes who stands outside her local jobcentre every week handing out food and information on people’s rights and how to fight the wrongs. She used to read a roll call of people who had been killed by DWP sanctions – until the list became too long.

Until the list became too long.
Until the list became too long.

Public Health sent an e mail in January saying that the Care and Urgent Needs system would only be providing two food parcels a year from now on. There is a rumour that the two parcels a year will soon be replaced with a hot cooked meal in a feeding centre. That should be fun, dragging your kids out in the rain to eat something they don’t like and walking them home again. Especially after you’ve been working all day.

I don’t actually feel I can write any more about this now because I’ve had a glass of wine and I’ll end up naming and shaming people who I feel have really, really let the people down.

But to finish, I’d just like to say that if you feel it’s ok for people to beg for food parcels then you can carry on putting tins of beans in that supermarket collection point but if you don’t think it’s right then get out there and demand that this government stop killing people, that employers pay a real living wage, that zero hours contracts are abolished. If you’re an employer then do the right thing and pay people what they are worth. If you’re  an employee then stop taking this shit. You’re not slaves, you are worth as much as any of those tossers judging people on The Apprentice. Stand up for your rights, go on strike, bang on the door of your MP if you can’t afford to feed your kids instead of feeling humiliated by accepting a food parcel.

We are all better than this.

12 thoughts on “Rest in peace, my little food sharing Hut.

  1. Food parcels are not enough coz tins alone don’t give a balanced diet diet. The fresh vegetables and fruit that you provided was so very essential. I feel so angry that your initiative was obviously working and hope something can be done to reinstate the prog

  2. Food parcels are not enough coz tins alone don’t give a balanced diet diet. The fresh vegetables and fruit that you provided were so very essential. I feel so angry that your initiative was obviously working and hope something can be done to reinstate the programme. What a dreadful situation where thousands are on 0 hour contracts, can’t feed their families and have to be in such a humiliating situation as to have to apply for a referral for a food parcel. What’s happened to this society? Most people don’t seem to care and those who do get trampled on. Social Engineering???love to you for trying to make a difference. Xx

  3. I was involved with a couple of welfare rights (Bedroom Tax) advice groups, they fell apart because of petty personal egos. Too many in the midst of misery want to step on someone to get to the top of waste tip, fighting over nothing.

    Anyhow the good people out there really do appreciate the time and effort any of us can and have given to holding back the tide of poverty, welfare cuts and insecurity.

    I don’t like the concept of ‘food banks’ never did. Because we’re all being driven back to a Victorian and 1930s past of begging, oh and I do mean begging, for charity. The very concept of ‘Charity’ is now so deeply ingrained since the 1980s that we’re all regularly brain-washed into believing that ‘Charity’ is so principled, so marvellous and even honourable. Well the reality is that charity always benefits the giver more than it ever does the receiver. While we’re giving our £2 for a Big Issue magazine we’re still keeping the those homeless people homeless and the rotten system that continues to expand homelessness while pushing up housing prices for the rich. While we support food banks we’re continuing the idea that it’s somehow fine for anyone (who haven’t actually done anything wrong or even hurt anyone) to have to submit themselves to the process of *humiliation* to get a measily handout. It’s a parcel or even just a couple of plastic bags, you’re only entitled to two a year. It is another part of a process that degrades and humiliates us all.

    It’s better that we ‘collectively’ continue feeding one another, opening free kitchens, bringing ourselves together, while we feed one another, lets start talking to one another more. Let’s start learning from one another about what’s really happening, we can learn a great deal from other people’s experiences of trying to survive this fundamental breakdown in civilised society. Hey lets even start plotting revolution NOW, we’ve tried everything else, begging, reasoning, letter writing, petitions, talking to elected officials, the press and media, protesting and marching, occupations etc, it has not moved us forward.

    Frankly being all nicey-nicey doesn’t feed hungry children, doesn’t house a single homeless family or stop an eviction. It doesn’t get you the life saving health treatment you need because some faceless bureaucrat has decided this treatment, procedure or medicine isn’t going to be paid for.

    The fact that we accept food banks is acceptance that we’ve given away yet more rights. We surrendered our rights to housing in the 1980s when new laws were made to build the ground for abolition of safe, secure and affordable (even free for the poorest) housing throughout the 1990s. In the past ten years we’ve accepted that the poorest of the poor will go hungry, will freeze in winter as the gas/lecky meter runs out of money or die on the streets.

    The fact is the entire welfare benefit, social security and health care system has been rapidly and fundamentally taken apart, what now remains is the inadequate left overs that have moved behind telephone menu systems, behind Internet website to offices numerous bus rides away. The scrap heap is what’s left and that is now what we fighting over to get a crumb or two. Rights have been replaced by charity and more of us are now begging, if not of the streets, we’re begging for welfare reconsideration, health care or even top ups to pay our rents after we’ve arbitrarily fallen foul of changes in housing benefit.

    I’m now not in the best of health myself, my condition means I’ve barely got much energy to keep myself going, none of those I’ve helped know and most of those people who I campaigned alongside of have simply moved on. Those of us who’ve fought back, stood up for ourselves and others in the same circumstances are now unable to stand up so easily for ourselves let along anyone else. Revolution is the only thing that will end this tidal wave of dispair, poverty, homeless and hunger, it’s a disgrace that too many fellow citizens and politicians have let it get this far. But, only talk of revolution will make those in power stop in their tracks, remember thousands of us have tried every which way.

    • Oh Kai, I agree with every word you say. The trouble with getting people to revolt is that they have to understand that what is happening to them is unacceptable. I was trolled by hundreds of Tesco employees last year when I dared to say on the Tesco page that I thought (as Europe’s largest employer) they should be paying their staff enough money to survive on.

      The Tesco staff told me how wonderful Tesco was to work for and all the many benefits. I pointed out that Tesco said they couldn’t afford to pay the living wage because they said it would cost them millions and millions. The staff didn’t see that it was millions of pounds of their wages that they were already being deprived of. They didn’t see that the tax credits they received because of their low wages were actually benefits, just like JSA. One woman told me how she and her partner both worked for Tesco and managed to have a decent life style. It turned out her partner was a manger, she was shop floor and they worked all the overtime that they could to survive. Why would she think that was ok?

  4. Just devastating Gill. We will keep fighting to rescue surplus food and let people – whoever they may be – access it via OLIO with dignity. You’re our hero and inspiration ❤️❤️❤️

    • Thanks Tessa. I truly believe that simply looking out for your neighbour – be that knocking on their door or sharing stuff in Olio – is the only way for us to survive now.

  5. Tescos throw away massive amounts of in date food in their bins every day at every shop. I’ve seen large numbers of green bananas being thrown out, literally to be wasted. I’ve pulled out lots of stuff and passed it on or used it myself, but if they catch you they’ll call the police and get you charged. Yet all you’re doing is recycling and redistributing.

    Even shops like Poundland chuck out loads of stuff, I’ll pulled out chocolates, loads of plants, all kinds just going to land-fill. I thought I’d ask their manager ‘officially’ if it was alright to take stuff -thought I’d try reason- he said he’d call the police, then stood outside by their bin. I showed him stuff in their bin and said it’s a waste to throw useful things like that out while people are going hungry. Tells me people make a mess in the bin when getting stuff? Like a bin is a neat and tidy place – I replied I’ve never seen anyone making a mess while they take stuff.

    It really is crazy, there are people going short, begging on the streets, while these shops throw out perfectly good food and other items in the bin to end up as land-fill, at least Asda put dated food onto a reduction shelf, even if they’re not reduced by much before they bin it, other shops don’t even bother.

    I’ve even said to supermarket staff when I’ve been directed to use a self-checkout (it’s mostly women helping make themselves ultimately redundant) that I refuse to use ‘auto-checkouts’ because they’re taking jobs, quite a few have said they’re not taking jobs, but I say they started over five years ago with four, then eight, then sixteen, now it’s an entire section. Now there are queues to use them while there are now ever fewer check-out people to help us, ie help to pack and with occasional price-checking.

    They’re not putting in auto checkouts’ to reduce prices or to share the work more farely ie reduce hours for everyone in the shop while keeping their same -or even better- wages, it’s to boost profits end of story. Not a better service for customers or better, more secure jobs for workers. I like the interaction with staff, sometimes it can be the only human contact certain people get on a day-to-day basis. But, in the past year I’ve started to notice a significant turn-around in views and check-out staff at my local Asda have started to agree with what I’ve been saying for the past five plus years, that the auto-checkouts are taking jobs.

    In short we need a redistribution of work hours, we could all work a 35hour week if we redistributed wealth and work-time more fairly, automation is reducing bank workers, staff in shops, offices and even more is on the way, if we don’t share the benefits across society, all that happens is bigger profits for the few and poverty for evermore of us, while there are those working overtime (while too many can’t get any worktime) just to standstill, pay the bills, while they can’t even spend quality time with family and kids. Work to live -not- live to work!

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