Nann du Sautoy: Islington Foodbank volunteer

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

Nann du Sautoy: volunteer at Islington Foodbank

Nann du Sautoy: volunteer at Islington Foodbank

“In an ideal world foodbanks shouldn’t exist,” says Nann du Sautoy who volunteers at Islington’s only Trussell Trust foodbank. Since July 2015 it has been based at Highbury Roundhouse on just Monday and Saturday afternoons.

“I 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,” 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 of several volunteers at Islington Foodbank run by the Trussell Trust. She’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 centre timeshares space in the Roundhouse.

“There are many, many reasons to use a foodbank,” explains Nann. “Everyone’s story is different but it is usually a time of emergency, and clients don’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.”

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Belanger on Islington Green. (c) islington faces

Belanger on Islington Green. (c) islington faces

4 places in Islington Nann likes

  • “I like all aspects of Islington – but I really miss Jones Brothers, which was where Waitrose on Holloway Road is now.”
  • “I 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.”
  • “I don’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. It’s enormous, has great variety and is inexpensive.” Newington Green Fruit and Vegetables
  • Nann’s first Islington base was Archway, but she’s been living at Highbury New Park for the past 20 years. “I’ve lived all over Islington. I bought my first home in De Beauvoir, on the Hackney border, for £5,000! I moved to Albion Road and then spent 16 years at Berriman Road near the Sobell Centre.”

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At the foodbank
On the weekday afternoon Nann is at the Foodbank she says it’s mainly single people needing help. “We can only give out up to 12 vouchers a year for a client in an emergency situation. It used to three, then six and is now double that. We don’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.”

Unfortunately it seems that more people are needing to use foodbanks, nationwide. Nann says, “In Islington we have seen more clients – around 20 will visit in an afternoon. It used to more like four or six.” The figures bear this out. From Jan –April this year there were 1,077 users (754 adults and 232 children). All have been referred by another organisation – in Islington this will be the Housing Associations, Jobcentres, Pillon Trust, and Islington Council’s family services among them. “We are always looking for more organisations to be partners, and give out vouchers,” says Nann.

The referral system means that anyone who gets to a foodbank doesn’t have to explain themselves. “We’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 don’t assess people’s needs,” says Nann.

Even so many people with vouchers find their first visit to a foodbank tough. “Some people are tearful, and a lot are ashamed. It’s a big, big thing to need food and no one wants to be in that position. When people come again it’s different. They know we are completely non-judgmental.”

What’s clear is that foodbanks – whether they should exist or not – 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.

Waitrose collection point for the Trussel Trust which runs foodbanks nationwide.

At the Waitrose in Angel there’s a collection point for the Trussell Trust which runs foodbanks nationwide, including Islington. However the food at this store goes to Haringey Foodbank.

4 ways you can help Islington Foodbank

  1. Volunteer to do a supermarket drive on a Saturday morning or afternoon, held once a month usually at Waitrose or Morrison on Holloway Road. “Volunteers go with lists of food we need for our parcels and ask customers if they’ll help by buying them,” says Nann.
  2. 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.
  3. Offer to help pack food into bags or give food bags to clients. To do this you’ll need to email your details to recruitment@islington.foodbank.org.uk
  4. Ask Waitrose branches if they can donate to Islington Foodbanks (at Waitrose Angel the food donated currently goes to Haringey Foodbank).
Sawyer & Gray near Highbury Corner (c) Islington Faces

Sawyer & Gray near Highbury Corner (c) Islington Faces

Supporting a foodbank is practical, and kind. And it doesn’t mean that you need to stop eating or change your shopping habits – or coffee shop for that matter, as we met for this interview at the very chic Sawyer and Gray at 290 St Paul’s Road. As Nann, who chooses to give her time to help Islington Foodbank, says “I do feel exhausted at the end of an afternoon, but not too bad. People may be talking about their problems but they don’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 don’t know whether I could with very few resources.”

It’s an important point, echoing the famous phrase that murdered MP Jo Cox said in her maiden speech: “We have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.”

  • Info about the Trussell Trust and Islington Foodbank is here 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 email recruitment@islington.foodbank.org.uk (please look at the website too). A good way to start is to join a Supermarket Drive.

Over to you
If you’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 the A-Z  index, or search by interviewee’s roles or Meet Islingtonians to find friends, neighbours and inspiration. Thanks for stopping by. Nicola