One of the biggest political scandals of the year, for me, has been foodbanks. Not the fact they exist – that, it should go without saying, is indeed a scandal – but the way that politicians from all sides have tried to use them for political ends.
The Tories claim the growth of foodbanks is a sign of Big Society working, with communities coming together to clear up the mess caused by Labour/the global financial meltdown. Labour, in turn, claim it’s all down to the Tories and their commitment to reduce the welfare bill. The Lib Dems – well, who knows.
And this is where the local and regional press, be it print or online, play a pivotal role in cutting through the rhetoric and telling the stories on the ground – and doing something about it.
So, while not in the tongue-in-cheek style of previous 12 days posts, this post is meant to be one of the ones which makes us proud about what we do – and why we have to continue to do it. Imagine if we were ruled by statutory regulation and a government determined to ignore the injustices which cause the need for foodbanks…
1. If it’s good enough for them
Congratulations to the Norwich Evening News and Eastern Daily Press which collected more than 10 tonnes of food supplies for local foodbanks.
One of the challenges of a campaign can be sustaining it day in, day out without a) going mad and b) driving readers mad.
A highlight of the coverage was an interview with 90s band Dodgy, who released a single to raise money for foodbanks.
The band, who had five top-20 singles in the mid-90s, including the No.4 hit Good Enough in 1996, are donating all the proceeds from ‘Christmas at the Foodbank’ to the Trussell Trust, the charity behind Norfolk’s network of foodbanks.
2. Tons Of Tins
In Nottingham, a foodbank campaign is nothing new. The Nottingham Post launched the Tons of Tins campaign in October 2012 with a plan to get 5 tons of tins for foodbanks in time for Christmas. It ended up with 11 tons, or 26,000 tins.
A quick trawl through Google searching for ‘Nottingham Post tons of tins’ shows just how deep the appeal went within the community. And in September, the title revisited those it helped to see what the situation was 9 months on . It has stayed loyal to the issue throughout, which this piece on Christmas Eve which made the point that while the politicians row, the food continues to be donated.
3. 4,000 tins from just one school
In Sheffield, the Sheffield Star worked with Maureen Greaves, whose husband Alan was murdered last Christmas as he made his way to church in the city – a story which dominated the national news for days afterwards.
The Star appealed for donations of food and household goods for the food bank and shop set up by Mr and Mrs Greaves for the needy in High Green, where they lived, in the weeks before his death.
The donations came in thick and fast – including from local MP and deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, with one school donating 4,000 tins alone!
Maureen Greaves, aged 64, said: “I am absolutely overwhelmed at the generosity shown by so many – we were absolutely inundated with food, toys and gifts.
“It meant we were able to provide everyone with a Christmas meal, a gift and goodies like boxes of chocolates – everyone was really appreciative.”
4. Sorted for Winter
Like many newspapers, the Medway Messenger prides itself on having a Christmas appeal every year. This year, it chose to support a local foodbank, run by the Trussell Trust.
Launched at the start of December, by the end of last week, readers of the weekly newspaper had donated over two tonnes of tins to help people through Christmas.
Medway Foodbank coordinator Helen Gallagher said they have enough food in their warehouse to help families through the winter.
Since launching in December 2011, Medway Foodbank has fed more than 4,000 people including more than 1,000 children. And the number is steadily growing. Last month, it helped just over 200 adults and 91 children. Sometimes, the local numbers, knowing the person could live next door, are the most frightening.
5. Simple … but effective
One of the best – in my opinion – campaigns about foodbanks comes from my local newspaper, the Lancashire Telegraph. It launched a ‘Back our Foodbanks’ campaign in the summer after a local foodbank reported concerns that children might not get enough to eat over the school holidays.
The campaign didn’t set targets in terms of collections, or specify one foodbank over another – a potentially politically sensitive issue in some areas as many are run independently – it just set out to raise awareness of a very important issue, and how it was having an impact throughout an area which is home to some of the country’s most desirable rural addresses and also some of the most deprived urban wards in the country.
Stories like this stand out: Diane Mason, who works at Royal Preston Hospital, said she found herself needing emergency food from the Blackburn Foodbank after she was diagnosed with osteoarthritis. She was off sick for two months with half pay but found that this was not enough to cover the cost of mortgage payments and heating bills. The foodbank was there to help. In other words, it could happen to anyone.
Last week, the paper reported on a family who walked five miles to get to the foodbank to get food. This feels to me like the might of the pen used to maximum effect.
6. Making a voice heard
Regardless of what the doom-mongers say – and some of the most vocal are the ones we should consider our allies – the regional press still has a powerful voice. The Manchester Evening News has used this to great effect with a campaign to make sure action was being taken on food poverty.
The title began campaigning after research suggested almost half of youngsters in Manchester live in food poverty – ie don’t get enough meals a day. Like the Lancashire Telegraph this year, it hasn’t been about arranging collections and donations, but focused on using its voice, weight and authority in the region to make things happen.
It has spurred local authorities into life to come up with solutions, rather than lamenting the cuts from government. It’s used its connections in the city’s restaurant and bar sector to make sure food doesn’t go to waste and is donated to charities such as Fareshare, which distributes spare food to all sorts of charities.
It has held a summit with partners – including food organisations – looking for solutions and encouraging more thought in how to help. At the food and drink festival, time was set aside to ensure support was pledged to helping organisations doing their bit. And, of course, it has relentlessly told the stories of those seeking to improve things – including Food banks. This story sums up the ongoing wealth of research, which the MEN is ensuring is seen by as wider audience as possible.
7. A foodbank appeal isn’t just for Christmas…
In Preston, the Lancashire Evening Post backed a Salvation Army appeal to ensure hundreds of families in the region would get a good Christmas meal thanks to generous donations. LEP readers helped provide 600 food parcels and hundreds of Christmas presents for children in and around the city.
Like so many of the other campaigns listed here, it was one launched in isolation, reflecting an urgent need within the community. The fact so many areas are doing it – I could also have included a North Wales Weekly newspaper campaign from last year, or one run by four titles in the south west, and others – shows just how the regional Press, in serving local audiences, also holds up a mirror to the country as a whole.
Talking of mirrors, The Mirror is the only national newspaper to have taken the foodbank campaign beyond the political rhetoric and delivered real action on the back of it. Its ‘Give a Child a Christmas’ campaign has raised over £70,000 to help the Trussell Trust.
And it’s also an issue which has a huge impact on social media – again, another mirror to the world we live in.
Birmingham Updates – a Facebook Page run by a man called Luke Addis – has almost 150,000 Facebook fans, and posts, as the name suggests, updates about Birmingham.
Among the day-to-day updates, Luke found space for this one, an appeal from the local fire station to fill a fire engine with enough tins to take to the local foodbank:
Look at the number of shares. And then look at the results in Perry Barr the next day:
That’s the power of the public, right there, in one day, and highlighted in two Facebook updates.
The fact so many – be it the regional press, a social media blogger, or community groups and schools, are prepared to do so much to help foodbanks works perfectly for the political rhetoric of all sides. It’s an issue which shouldn’t exist in 21st century Britain. The fact it does, and the fact so much is being done on a local basis, is a testament to the power communities, and an example of the important role local media plays in reflecting local lives.
I feel I’ve rather taken the jollity out of the 12 Days of Local Pressmasness with this post. I’m sorry about that. Normal service will resume tomorrow.