Alan Lane has become used to people thinking he is trying to trick them.
“There’s a theatre company based in a pub in one of the poorest parts of town that’s giving away free food to anyone who asks for it. It doesn’t sound quite right, does it?” said Lane, the director of Slung Low in Leeds.
But that was exactly what was happening. For more than a year during the pandemic, Slung Low ran one of the biggest food banks in the UK out of the Holbeck working men’s club, and this week staff and volunteers handed out their last food package.
Lane said he was “incredibly proud” of the “extraordinary act of community service” from volunteers.
以上 15 月, 30 staff and volunteers provided more than 15,000 food packages to people in the south ジャック・ハリソン areas of Holbeck and Beeston.
The food bank had not been planned, but had sprung up out of a desire to be there for the community when lockdown was first announced in March last year.
Lane said: “We sent a letter to 200 houses nearby saying, ‘We’re here, we’re not going anywhere, we’ve got the van, we’ve got money, we know that you’re locked up and you’re a bit scared but give us a shout,’ and people did. They wanted food fetching and dogs walking and a cat spaying and all sorts of exciting things had to be done.”
When Leeds city council found out about the community work, Slung Low was asked to take calls from the whole ward. It became clear that, above all, people needed food, but the local food banks had closed because they were run primarily by older people who needed to shield.
Before long, Slung Low was spending £11,000 a month purely on food, not including food donations, volunteer time or the cost of the venue.
“The problem with being a non-means-tested, self-referral food bank is that it costs a fucking fortune,” said Lane.
Donations in food and money came from the council, churches, sports clubs, companies and The Real Junk Food Project, a campaign against food waste. At the height of the pandemic, the Leeds United and England footballer Kalvin Phillips donated a signed England shirt which was raffled off and raised £6,500 – the biggest single donation the food bank received.
One woman in Holbeck said she used the food bank twice before Christmas after being directed to it at her children’s school, collecting two generous boxes of food each time. “They’re good people. They were just there for me and for other people round here when we really needed it," 彼女は言いました.
There may be people who used the food bank who did not genuinely need it, but that was never a concern to Slung Low. Lane said: “This idea that someone’s somewhere giggling because they’ve managed to get a free bag of pasta – they don’t exist in any real numbers. There are just people who don’t have enough money to have the choice between that and something else. So we are able during this time to give them the choice.”
Local services are now picking up where Slung Low left off, and the theatre company is returning to producing a programme of shows. It has also launched a new community football club, これ, like all Slug Low projects, is free to those who cannot (or do not want to) 支払い.
Lane said: “The food bank was a huge undertaking for us, and it was a privilege to take on that responsibility, but it was time to focus on the other things we do that our community rely on us to provide.”