Sunday, 7 April 2019

CORNWALL - UNDER THE TOURIST SURFACE - PART THREE: FOOD BANKS IN ST IVES

In Part One of this series exploring Cornwall under the tourist surface, I placed our county in the context of the national consequences of the Conservative Austerity programme that has had such disastrous consequences for the state of Britain. That Austerity programme was the product of the Tory elite's devotion to an economic theory - neoliberalism - that holds that markets need to be as free as possible and the role of the state therefore needs to be reduced to its barest minimum. Corporations and people will then pay less tax - and everyone ends up better off. Make no mistake, it is a failed economic theory. The rich get richer - but inequalities deepen and the poor suffer as never before. Our welfare state now depends on charity. Those wonderful, far-sighted and compassionate people who were responsible for the creation of our system of welfare for all during the 20th century would be horrified to see how far the Tories since 2010 have turned the clock back in the direction of less civilised and humane times.   Press this link here for Part One.

In Part Two, I detailed some of the consequences of the Austerity programme as it works its nasty way through a Penzance housing state and its families. Press this link here for Part Two.

Now in Part Three, I am sharing what I have discovered about food poverty and other consequences of the Austerity programme in the idyllic seaside town of St Ives where Louise and I live. Last Monday evening - April 1 - I attended the AGM of the St Ives Community Fund. Online I had seen that a guest speaker, Chris Wallis, was giving a talk on the St Ives Food Bank. For me, as a Labour Party activist, this would be a golden opportunity to find our more about a matter of which I knew little.

We had become residents in St Ives in January 2013. Within a year or two of our arrival, I remember walking through the church grounds of St John's in the Fields, the C.of E. church at the top of the valley side I ascend each day with Ella our canine on her daily walk to the field in which she can run. Pausing outside the church hall, I read on the notice board that a food bank operated here on a specific day and also at a couple of other sites in the town. That was the sum of my knowledge until last Monday.


St John's in the Fields, St Ives


Colin Nicholls is one of the seven trustees of the St Ives Community Fund and a leading figure within the St Ives community - a prominent member of the Town Council and an important local retailer in

his guise as 'Mr Colenso', the store keeper and owner of the business that has everything you could possibly need by way of hardware. When I decorated the house, everything was bought from Colenso's. It was Colin who introduced Chris Wallis and here is my account of Chris' s story:

  • In April 2012, Councillor Ron Tulley - another leading figure in the roll-call of St Ives luminaries - invited a number of local churches to contribute to the identification of both the social needs of the elderly and food poverty;    
  • With some Town Council funding, the first issue of food parcels took place at St John's in September 2012, with 5-6 families benefitting albeit in a limited way with 3 days of food being given each week for three weeks. What was being issued was never enough, especially during wintertime. People were in need for many reasons but unemployment and underemployment and domestic abuse were important factors; 
  • Only having one small room for storage within the church premises and only being open for one hour a week were significant constraints and the need for the provision of hot food was becoming more and more apparent. 


St Ives Foodbank - as posted in the summer of 2013

  • In 2014/15, the main centre of operations for the Foodbank moved to the Chy-Ang-Wheal Methodist Church in the Carbis Bay area of St Ives. Here, the number of meals provided doubled to over 500 as the Foodbank was now open every Thursday for 3 hours and a team of four volunteers supported Chris and enabled the provision of hot food. Seven families were supported regularly now, with the number rising to 14 families in wintertime. With the recent introduction of Universal Credit (UC) locally, these figures are on the upturn.  
  • Referrals to the Foodbank used to come form the local Jobcentre but that avenue was closed down. Now they come from health visitors, Citizen's Advice, social services, doctors and charities. The food parcels that are supplied are designed to last for 5 days and they are given for three weeks. In practice, some are handed out over a longer-term according to need. 
  • Chris Wallis has helped 7 people into accommodation over recent years. The Foodbank has an average annual income of around £1800. It needs an income of £3000 if it is to provide the fresh and frozen food needed - and he is aware that some people in St Ives will travel if they can to use the Hayle and Penzance foodbanks because food parcels from those banks contain more fresh food and fewer people will know about their need. Chris believes that 'we are only scratching the surface' of food poverty here in St Ives. Some who eventually come are in tears at the shame of having reached this position. Children are not getting a breakfast before going to school. He would love to see a lunchtime club which can provide food during the school holidays.   
  • The main donations of tinned food and other non-perishable items come from the local supermarkets and their collecting points - Tesco's and the Coop. The foodbank has a surplus of beans, pasta and soup -what it needs are donations of tinned meats and flour.  

Such important work is being done to help those in need in St Ives. Chris Wallis is an unsung hero. The St Ives Community Fund is dedicating the proceeds of the June 2019 Secret Gardens event to the Foodbank for its use. For all this, many thanks. 




But we must never forget what has caused this human distress and need, namely a Conservative government programme of Austerity. 




As I heard Jeremy Corbyn say at Heartlands in Cornwall on two separate occasions, in 2016 and 2017, 'Austerity was never an economic necessity; it was always a political choice'.      


Yes, my personal view - it really is JC on the platform in the white shirt - at Heartlands in Cornwall in 2017
  


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