Estimated reading time:6 minutes, 56 seconds
Everyone has a story. In the first four months of 2016 more than 1,000 people needed to use Islington Foodbank. Volunteer Nann du Sautoy explains how it works, and why people increasingly need emergency bags of food in order to eat for the next three to four days. Interview by Nicola Baird
â€śIn an ideal world foodbanks shouldnâ€™t exist,â€ť says Nann du Sautoy who volunteers at Islingtonâ€™s only Trussell Trust foodbank. Since July 2015 it has been based at Highbury Roundhouse on just Monday and Saturday afternoons.
â€śI heard about foodbanks for the first time when I was volunteering at Citizens Advice Bureau and not long after a friend started volunteering at a foodbank in Southwark and what she said about her work there really interested me,â€ť says Nann who has lived in Islington (or just into Hackney) since she moved to London from New York in 1964 and had a long career in publishing with Little Brown.
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Now retired, Nann is one ofÂ several volunteers at Islington Foodbank run by the Trussell Trust. Sheâ€™s been with it since early 2014, and last year saw it move from its first rent free home on Pentonville Road to Highbury Roundhouse. When the work is completed at this community centre Islington Foodbank looks set to have a permanent home, but right now the warehouse is a shipping container in the old car park and the centreÂ timesharesÂ space in the Roundhouse.
â€śThere are many, many reasons to use a foodbank,â€ť explains Nann. â€śEveryoneâ€™s story is different but it is usually a time of emergency, and clients donâ€™t have anything to fall back on. For example they might have had to pay a train fare to see a sick relative. It may only be a few pounds but it can put people into a domino effect of debt. This, combined with the benefit changes since the Coalition government (2010) and benefit delays as people are reassessed and possibly sanctioned, means that people can be left without reserves for months at a time. We often see people at the Islington Foodbank who have not had money for 12-16 weeks.â€ť
4 places in Islington Nann likes
- â€śI like all aspects of Islington â€“ but I really miss Jones Brothers, which was where Waitrose on Holloway Road is now.â€ť
- â€śI like being able to walk to a variety of restaurants, some inexpensive but very good like Gem on Upper Street, which is Kurdish/Turkish, and others that are for special occasions like Belanger (Alsace food) on Islington Green.â€ť
- â€śI donâ€™t drive and I have a bad back so I get almost everything from Ocado. Sometimes I go to the huge greengrocer on 109 Newington Green Road between Grosvenor Avenue and Beresford Road. Itâ€™s enormous, has great variety and is inexpensive.â€ťÂ Newington Green Fruit and Vegetables
- Nannâ€™s first Islington base was Archway, but sheâ€™s been living at Highbury New Park for the past 20 years. â€śIâ€™ve lived all over Islington. I bought my first home in De Beauvoir, on the Hackney border, for ÂŁ5,000! I moved to Albion Road and then spent 16 years at Berriman Road near the Sobell Centre.â€ť
At the foodbank
On the weekday afternoon Nann is at the Foodbank she says itâ€™s mainly single people needing help. â€śWe canÂ only give out up to 12 vouchers a year for a client in an emergency situation. It used toÂ three, then six and is now double that. We donâ€™t want people to feel they can rely on us. The food supplies we offer are enough for three-four days for an emergency or stopgap. They contain nutrition and some treats.â€ť
Unfortunately it seems that more people are needing to use foodbanks, nationwide. Nann says, â€śIn Islington we have seen more clients â€“ around 20 will visit in an afternoon. It used to more like four or six.â€ť The figures bear this out. From Jan â€“April this year there were 1,077 users (754 adults and 232 children). All have been referred by another organisation â€“ in Islington this will be the Housing Associations, Jobcentres, Pillon Trust, and Islington Councilâ€™s family services among them. â€śWe are always looking for more organisations to be partners, and give out vouchers,â€ť says Nann.
The referral system means that anyone who gets to a foodbank doesnâ€™t have to explain themselves. â€śWeâ€™re just friendly faces offering a hot drink and a biscuit. If people need a chance to get a load off their mind they can. We donâ€™t assess peopleâ€™s needs,â€ť says Nann.
Even so many people with vouchers findÂ their first visit to a foodbank tough. â€śSome people are tearful, and a lot are ashamed. Itâ€™s a big, big thing to need food and no one wants to be in that position. When people come again itâ€™s different. They know we are completely non-judgmental.â€ť
Whatâ€™s clear is that foodbanks â€“ whether they should exist or not â€“ are a lifesaver for people. It is terrible that so many people need to use them, but as they do then anyone who is lucky enough to be able to afford to eat what they like is invited to give Islington Foodbank a boost.
4 waysÂ you canÂ help Islington Foodbank
- Volunteer to do a supermarket drive on a Saturday morning or afternoon, held once a month usually at Waitrose or Morrison on Holloway Road. â€śVolunteers go with lists of food we need for our parcels and ask customers if theyâ€™ll help by buying them,â€ť says Nann.
- Donate tins or preserved food like baked beans, pasta and rice at drop off points (eg, places of worship). These should not be out of date.
- Offer to help pack food into bags or give food bags to clients. To do this youâ€™ll need to email your details to firstname.lastname@example.org
- Ask Waitrose branches if they can donate to Islington Foodbanks (at Waitrose Angel the food donated currently goes to Haringey Foodbank).
Supporting a foodbank is practical, and kind. And it doesnâ€™t mean that you need to stop eating or change your shopping habits â€“ or coffee shop for that matter, as we met for this interview at the very chicÂ Sawyer and GrayÂ at 290 St Paulâ€™s Road. As Nann, who chooses to give her time to help Islington Foodbank, says â€śI do feel exhausted at the end of an afternoon, but not too bad. People may be talking about their problems but they donâ€™t have to plead, they will be laughing. It gives you a connection with people and makes me feel like my worries and problems are so minor and insignificant. I find it amazing how some people can still laugh and cope in ways that I donâ€™t know whether I could with very few resources.â€ť
Itâ€™s an important point, echoing the famous phrase that murdered MP Jo Cox said in her maiden speech: â€śWe have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.â€ť
- Info about the Trussell Trust and Islington Foodbank is hereÂ https://islington.foodbank.org.uk/locations/
- If you would like to do more for Islington Foodbank look at the list of 4 ways to help above and then contact Nann using this emailÂ email@example.com (please look at the website too). A good way to start is to join a Supermarket Drive.
Over to you
If youâ€™d like to nominate someone to be interviewed who grew up, lives or works in Islington, or suggest yourself, please let me know, via nicolabaird.green at gmail.com. Thank you.
If you enjoyed this post you might like to look at theÂ A-Z Â index, orÂ search by intervieweeâ€™s roles or Meet IslingtoniansÂ to find friends, neighbours and inspiration. Thanks for stopping by. Nicola