Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper
Photo by MaryBeth Haas of Miward Road

Photo by Marybeth Haas of Milward Road

Food poverty in Hastings and St. Leonards: a snapshot

HOT’s Vanessa Alves was invited to attend a meeting facilitated by HVA (Hastings Voluntary Action) that brought together charities and agencies who work on the front line of food poverty in Hastings and St Leonards. 

This gathering was the first of its kind and the groups included, but were not limited to: the Food BankThe Magdalen and Lasher Charity, Ore Village Community CentreFSN (Fellowship of St. Nicholas) and HARC (Hastings Advice and Representation Centre).

With each organization experiencing a sharp rise in demand for their services, all agreed that food poverty has become worse and they are anticipating a greater number of people in crisis over the rest of this year.

Some Statistics

The Food Bank that operates at King’s Church has reported an 84% increase in the food they give out. What was once their maximum has now become their minimum.

The Kellogs report, Hard To Swallow draws attention to the fact that food prices have risen and were set to rise by £357 by the end of last year, meaning that the poorest 10% of people would spend a quarter of their income on food alone.

The Hastings and St Leonards Anti-Poverty Strategy Refresh 2016-2020 Report states that 35% of households in Hastings are in poverty: this is 14,584 households. Central St Leonards is among the 2% most deprived neighbourhoods in England.

The meeting

We began by taking a look at what models are already operating within Hastings and St Leonards. There are two types of Food Banks, one where access to food is free, where they supply long life food, such as the Food Bank at King’s church. The second type is Subsidised Food Banks, like at Ore Community Centre, where you pay £2.50 and can pick up to ten items and receive fresh fruit and vegetables for free.

There is a voucher system operating at His Place Church, where you can pay for a voucher and give it to someone vulnerable or homeless. They are only redeemable at their café, so the recipient of these vouchers can have a hot meal, tea and coffee already paid for. This is particularly useful for those who do not feel comfortable giving money directly, but wish to help.

Bags of Taste is a free scheme that operates at Ore Village Community Centre, that teaches people how to cook on a £1 budget and prevent food waste, an essential skill to help people on lower incomes manage money and have a healthy balanced diet. This also includes taking home the ingredients they cook with at a cost of £3, enough for four meals, encouraging people’s continued use of the skills they’ve learned.

I listened intently as each representative discussed the wide range of people who use their services – and the circumstances that bring them to their doors. It was unanimous that more and more working families struggle to provide food, as well as covering the other rising costs of living. It encompassed people transitioning onto Universal Credit, the vulnerable, the homeless and those who are alcohol and drug dependant. Debt and the threat of homelessness due to rent arrears are also a factor.

It comes as no surprise to the participating organisations that there has been an increase in mental health issues. They want to tackle and remove the shame that often comes attached when people experience hardship, and ensure no-one slips through the cracks during these turbulent times.

Even though they want stronger links to meet the needs of the Hastings and St Leonards area, they do not want to become another committee or agency.  By retaining their own identities and also being more aware of each other, they are better able to advise residents of the organisations that could provide additional support for their particular circumstances and needs. HARC in particular gives advice to make sure that people are able to gain access to the benefits and tax credits they are entitled to, assisting the return to work, but also assisting residents, including the elderly, in filling out forms which can be hard to understand.

It was refreshing and exciting to witness that there is no competition between the various organisations, but an awareness of the quality of life in our town. Along with the deep desire to help people in times of crisis, they are keen for their services to engage with local residents. They are thinking about how they can make donating easier and  how to make people more aware of how they can be a part of what is happening.

It is an evolving partnership that will continue to grow and become established alongside what people need – and highlighted Hollington as an area where services could be strengthened and for possible future input. It is inspiring that so much great work is already taking place, while looking ahead to what could possibly be a very difficult rest of the year for some. This includes the aspiration of a co-ordinated approach during the six week holidays that can cause extra strain and stress and push people deeper into food poverty leaving families hungry.

There is so much more that I could say and to be honest, one article isn’t going to do it justice. Food poverty is an ongoing issue that requires a deeper look. However, every organisation is working hard to alleviate the rising pressures that people are experiencing; and they also need a greater spotlight on them. Groups unable to attend were acknowledged as part of this network, for example, Dom’s Food Mission, Seaview Project, Hope Kitchen and Fare Share.

I will be visiting some of them in the near future to explore how Hastings and St Leonards continues to be a place where community is more than a buzz word, striving to be a place where people come first.

Posted 16:24 Tuesday, Apr 24, 2018 In: Health Matters

1 Comment

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  1. Anton Hack

    Thanks for this informative article. Warm Up The Homeless deserve a mention as they also do a lot to help people in need in the Hastings & Eastbourne areas.

    Comment by Anton Hack — Wednesday, May 2, 2018 @ 13:37

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