Lerwick’s new foodbank was officially opened today, heralding a new chapter in the development of the service.
Premises at 20A St Magnus Street allow all the food donated to be kept in one room, while a skills centre operated through the New Life Church offers people the chance to learn practical skills as well.
The new premises come as the service settles in to its new arrangement with the Trussel Trust – a nationwide social franchise which offers support to over 400 foodbanks across the UK.
Angela Nunn, the Salvation Army’s former commanding officer who operates the foodbank along with fellow volunteer David Grieve, said demand for the food ministry scheme was continuing to grow.
The foodbank scheme had dispatched 236 parcels this year by the end of July – roughly a month’s worth up from the same period in 2015.
Mrs Nunn said the new premises were more convenient for many of the service users, lying closer to the bus station and the benefits office.
“Because what we do here is just a foodbank we now have a narrower remit so we do focus on what we are doing, concerning ourselves with food poverty and raising awareness about social justice.”
She said food ministry was not a new thing, and that the day marked a new chapter in a “very long book”.
She added the food service, previously run by the Salvation Army, had always existed.
“But it has grown beyond what we imagined in the last few years. There have been a number of reasons for that.”
She said wages and benefits had failed to keep pace with rising living costs since the credit crunch of 2008.
Benefit freezes and zero hour contracts had only added to the difficulties many people experience, Mrs Nunn added.
That allowed the food ministry scheme to help people experiencing a short-term crisis.
She said Shetland should be “rightly proud” about the generosity and kindness of her people.
“Everything we give out has been donated by the local community.”
Mrs Nunn said working for the service had highlighted the real need that existed in the community.
“We’ve seen people come in crying tears of shame, unable to look at us – unable to speak to us – because they feel so bad. But we see them leave with a smile on their face.”
She said she would have preferred to live in a world where the food ministry scheme was not required.
“The fact this service is still needed makes me very cross. I would love not to be doing this job. I know that would be my goal. Poverty is a choice that society makes.
“We need to campaign for a different kind of society.”
Mr Grieve said his “eyes were opened” by the demand for goods provided by the foodbank.
The Trussel Trust’s Ewan Gurr said lives had been transformed by foodbanks.
He said it was wrong to feel ashamed about foodbanks.
“The thing we should be ashamed about is food poverty,” he said. “But we should never be ashamed of foodbanks.
He highlighted the gap between rich and poor, and said figures had shown the second highest concentration of millionaires lay in Whalsay.
“Yet there are people living in Whalsay who use the foodbank,” he said.
“Shetland is a place you would never assume food poverty exists. Yet there are people right across the country experiencing difficulty, through no fault of their own.”
Jamie Tonge is the minister at New Life Church. He read from the New Testament a parable relating to the feeding of the poor.
“New Life Church has a part to play in the skills centre we are now standing in as well as the foodbank.
“We want to see the church be able to reach in to the community. For us those are really important issues.
“Over the centuries the church, very much, has been at the cutting edge, the forefront, of social concern.
“We live in a land where we have so much. But we are living in days now where we don’t have loads and loads of money. But, what we do have, is people. And you would be surprised how many people really care about what’s happening.”
• Picture shows Trussel Trust representatives Jim Robertson (left) and Ewan Gurr are joined by foodbank volunteers Angela Nunn and David Grieve.