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New Manchester University film to shed light on food poverty

COMPASSION: Food bank founders Elaine Leverage and Michelle Welch (right)

A NEW film by researchers at the University of Manchester is set to highlight the growing role that food banks play in the lives of vulnerable people in the UK.

The film, funded by the university’s School of Social Sciences, provides a snapshot of the issues faced by the thousands of people who find their food choices limited, often having to skip meals in order to prioritise their families.

The film will feature interviews with food bank users, many of whom were reluctant to seek food aid.

Recent studies have highlighted the fact that food insecurity - when people do not have the economic, social and physical resources to shop, cook and eat in order to ensure a sufficient supply of nutritionally appropriate food - is more widespread than had previously been estimated.

Earlier this year, researchers at the university announced the launch of a joint project with local and national food charities to research ways to tackle food insecurity and reduce food waste in the UK. 
Among the organisations involved in the project are FareShare Greater Manchester, Lifeshare, Cracking Good Food, the Rainbow Christian Centre and the Compassion Foodbank.

The project will look to develop partnerships for fresh food recycling and purchasing in order to increase capacity and reduce costs. It will also explore ways to get food parcels to those that need them and look into providing hands-on cooking training for people who want to learn how to make good, affordable food from scratch, pick up budgeting tips and understand more about healthy eating. There will also be work to train people to become volunteers themselves, helping them to develop their skills by working with the organisations that have helped them.

Dr Kingsley Purdam, a lecturer and expert on food insecurity and food banks, will lead the project for the university. His recent research concluded that food insecurity and malnutrition in the UK is a much wider problem than has been recognised and the rapid growth in the number of food banks and food donation points in supermarkets suggests a ‘normalisation’ of food aid in the UK.

He said: “This project, working with front line service providers, represents a real opportunity for coordinated action that could make a real difference to the lives of people living in food poverty. The University of Manchester is committed to making a positive difference in the drive to tackle poverty and inequalities”.

Among the organisations trying to make a difference to those who need help in the city is the Compassion food bank based at the Church of God of Prophecy on Moss Lane East. It opened in January 2013 and helps around 30 people a day.

Compassion founders Elaine Leverage and Michelle Welch decided to create the food bank after watching a television documentary on the impact of local food banks in helping people who were struggling to find the money to eat.

The two women already worked as volunteers giving out food parcels to homeless people at Christmas at their local church.

Through their volunteer work, they had heard several stories of individuals who were going hungry because their benefit payments could not cover rising food bills as well as low-income families who had been hit by ever increasing energy bills and changes to housing and child benefit.

“We both saw changes in the area such as the effects of the recession and people struggling with changes to their benefits and we thought we really had to do something,” Welch recalled.

Leverage said: “Around a third of people who come to us have had their benefits sanctioned, others work but can’t keep up with bills or are struggling to pay the bedroom tax. Although politicians say the economy is recovering, people aren’t seeing that here.”

Seb Serayet, development manager for FareShare, said: “We supply hundreds of tonnes of surplus food to over 130 charitable organisations who feed vulnerable people in Greater Manchester.

However, giving food does not solve the problem. We need to do more to understand and address the underlying causes of food insecurity and poverty and working with the University and front line partners will help us to achieve this.”

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