I must begin this article with a huge apology to all the members for my dreadful lack of attendance for some long while now but I hope what follows will go some way to an explanation and this might be the start of my return and participation. I’m going to have to interview myself so here goes:
John: So tell me Mark, what on earth have you been up to?
Mark: Well, as you know I work for the Trussell Trust which is the organisation which has supported the growth of over 450 foodbanks in the UK since 2005. I joined TT in 2008 to run Salisbury Foodbank as a semi-retirement job just before the economy failed. After 3 years developing the foodbank I was asked to build a fundraising team which moved in 5 years from raising £400,0000 a year to supporting an income of over £7m. A year ago I was asked to use my career skills of audit and compliance to develop a risk function. Over the past year TT has had to completely reorganise to meet future demands and in October I was also asked to run our £1.5m turnover Social Enterprise, so I’ve been quite busy for someone who decided to semi-retire 10 years ago!
John: Have you done any Rotary – even a little bit?
Mark: I’m pleased to say I have. Rotary has supported an excellent VTT programme in Bulgaria incorporating clubs in the UK and the Rotary Club of Sofia. TT started its work, not with foodbanks but in Bulgaria. This work is now undertaken by the Foundation for Social Change & Inclusion (FSCI) which is a sister charity of TT. The VTT is supporting youngsters from the Roma community in Bulgaria to undertake social enterprise and to give them a leg up into Bulgarian Society. Roma make up 10% of the Bulgarian population but live in acute poverty in the poorest EU state. It has been my job to oversee the movement of the funds and keep a general eye on the project.
John: But why are you still so busy with foodbank when our economy is improving?
Mark: Sadly many people are being left behind. Public sector 1% pay rises and changes to benefits such as the introduction of Universal Credit and of a system of sanctions in the benefits system has left many people with serious difficulties unable to support themselves. Even good policy changes bring turmoil to many until systems settle down and foodbanks are one of the safety nets. In the coming week our last 12 monthly feeding statistics will be released. I can’t tell you today what the numbers are but they have not gone down from over 1m food parcels last year.
But the big change is that we have been developing “More Than Food” at the foodbanks to help people solve the underlying issues they have with things like benefits (in and out of work), housing, debt, and simple things like budgeting and planning the weekly shopping. Our “Eat Well Spend Less” course often improves diet and saves £10-£15 a week on the food budget which if your weekly income is £85 is quite a saving.
We have also teamed up with many large businesses one of which, an energy provided puts £49 onto our foodbank client’s meter card to give them gas and electricity whether on production of a foodbank voucher, regardless of whether the person is their customer or not. It’s no good getting a food parcel if you can’t cook the contents.
John: so what about this Social Enterprise?
Mark: Well we began that in Salisbury as an add-on service for people who couldn’t afford food, realising they couldn’t buy clothes or household items either. What started as a small service has turned into a chain of 11 shops and a recycling service which also recycles hundreds of tonnes of items back to industry avoiding costly landfill. We also upcycle furniture turning unfashionable but quality wooden items into desirable saleable goods – all with volunteers who come to us to learn skills. But we couldn’t manage without them. Many have serious life issues but they key is to work out what people can do, not what they can’t.
John: So what motivates you?
Mark: As I said above, I’m a minister in the Church of England and TT is a charity founded on Christian principles but our faith drives our actions, rather than us trying to proselytise. My faith is very important to me. There are a few versed in the New Testament book of James which say roughly this – if you go to church every day but walk past someone in trouble and only wish them well but do nothing to help then all your faith is worth nothing. But for me that action has to mean something real which is why I’m passionate about More Than Food. Everyone deserves a chance even if they have messed up – how often have you or I messed up and got away with it.
Or sometimes life just picks you up and spits you out. My parting message is, if you haven’t seen “I Daniel Blake”, spend £10 on the DVD and 100 minutes watching it – it’s harrowing and it’s fiction but the stories it portrays are all too real for thousands of people in this country.
If you are ever near Salisbury and have a spare hour I’d love to show you round. And I’ll try to be a bit more attentive from now on!
John: Many thanks Mark and you are forgiven!
Mark Ward is Head of Quality Assurance & Risk Management, The Trussell Trust. He is married to Margaret who works for Salisbury Cathedral Refectory. He has 5 grandchildren aged almost 5 down to 15 weeks and they live with their three children and spouses variously in Leeds, Nottingham and Norwich all of which are quite a drive from our home on the edge of the New Forest where Mark is also a Licenced Lay Minister for 7 Church of England parishes.