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Local Legends: The Welcome Centre

Published: 3/01/2024

We spoke to our friends at The Welcome Centre about the important work they do supporting our local community with a little help from Suma. We give them an annual budget to spend on ordering items they need, as well as donating damaged goods that are in useable condition and short-dated stock. We also provide a regular donation via our member community vote. More on that later!

Tell us a bit about you and the history of The Welcome Centre?
We’re not a religious organisation, but someone from the church had wanted to do good for their community and The Welcome Centre was founded in around 2000. Almost 25 years later we’re one of the largest independent food banks in the UK, providing not only food, toiletries and other essentials but also a one-to-one advice, guidance and support service tailored to people’s needs. We used to run everything from our town centre space but demand has grown and grown which means we now also operate a warehouse. In October last year we decided to move our food bank operation to our nearby warehouse and, with funding from the national lottery, we’ve built extra office space there too. Referrals are sent to the warehouse, and all the foodbank activity is done there and runs on a 24-hour delay.

What services do you offer and to who?
We are a crisis service rather than a specialist service so our job is to signpost people to the correct places to support all their needs. People can come and collect food parcels but they can’t just turn up. Many people are referred by local welfare provision and meet with our advice team, a vital service that opens up a lot of important conversations. For example, we had someone collecting a food parcel who chatted to the team and discussed the fact that they were struggling for work. Our team linked them to a local work coach and that person is now in employment! It’s fine if people don’t want to talk, but the option is always there. We offer physical help in terms of food, toiletries and cleaning packs. This also includes mobile phones and sim cards, bedding, home starter kits (pans/cutlery etc), furniture, white goods, beds, carpets, pet care and more. We also provide advice, guidance, budgeting advice and support to address any underlying issues.

How can people access support?
People need to be referred to us by one of our 113 referrers. If someone was struggling to make ends meet and visited the Citizen Advice Bureau they would be likely to refer them to The Welcome Centre. Or the referral may be made by a mental health worker, a teacher, a probation officer or other local charities, such as The Mission, DASH, CHART, etc. All referrals are processed by one of our 130 volunteers. They will ask about individual needs and issues, such as mental health, addiction, dependents (including pets), etc, as well as finding out what other support is being accessed. Once that’s been established they can decide what would be most helpful. Some people need halal or vegan/veggie food, for example, and the type of food they receive will depend on available facilities. If someone had escaped an abusive relationship and was being housed in a hotel with just a kettle, there’s no point supplying microwave meals.

How has demand for your services changed over the years and more recently?
Demand peaked in April during Covid and has remained high ever since. It peaked again recently due to the cost of living crisis. Demand is up 40% on last year and everyone is struggling. A lot of people got into debt or lost their jobs/had to change roles during Covid and with that came a lot of issues. The demographic of the type of people we support has changed significantly. People with well-paid jobs are having to turn to food banks. This brought on a big change in people’s perception of food banks and, in turn, donations increased as people were thinking ‘That could be me!’
Lots of foodbanks popped up during this time which has made it harder for many to access donations. A lot of them were individuals wanting to help but, as most weren’t registered charities, they had no access to grants or funding and soon found they couldn’t continue.
When the pandemic started we were forced to close our doors but there was a lot of funding available. The Household Support Fund was created and we were a main beneficiary, as well as receiving major grants from Martin Lewis, CAF and the One Community. Our CEO Ellie worked with the local council and, between us, we implemented a delivery service which the council supported for 18 months. Since then we’ve established we can deliver around 40% of the parcels we set up during Covid. We determine who gets this service based on a combination of factors, such as physical or mental health, if they have kids or other dependants and how far away they are. We’re in a good financial position now where we’re positive we can cope, even during this cost of living crisis.

How can people help?
The three most important things are food, time and money. Receiving food donations is great as people always need to eat. However, financial support is always the best option, either as a one-off or regular donations. We buy wholesale from a local supermarket – the 50p you’d spend on a tin of beans would buy 2 tins wholesale. In terms of time, we always need volunteers as they keep everything going! We have regular volunteers who come in every week and they all have their specific roles. We accommodate whatever is comfortable for you.
We also have corporate volunteering where people from businesses will come and spend the day. This often opens their eyes to issues and we find people then come back and volunteer in their own time. You can sign up to volunteer via our website. We ask you to commit for 6 months and that you’ve not used the service yourself for 6 months as this would be a conflict of interest.

How do people make donations?
The best way you can help us is by setting up a regular monthly donation. This allows us to plan for the future. You can give monthly or make a single donation via our website.
For food donations, we have bins in all the main supermarkets and then at places like Magic Rock Brewery. You can find the full list on our website.

Do you have a list of shortages available?
We accept donations of most dried, fresh and tinned foods as long as they are unopened and in date. You can find the list of shortages on our website.

Is there anything you don’t need or can’t accept?
We don’t need sugar or salt, tinned spaghetti, out-of-date food, bottled water or anything containing alcohol. We also find people will do a big house clear out and want to donate things but we don’t accept any clothes and shoes of any type, or any old toys or bric-a-brac.

Stay in touch with The Welcome Centre
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