TUCKED away in an industrial estate close to the town centre, Warrington Foodbank is offering a lifeline to desperate residents in crisis.

It opened in the town in 2012 but, now armed with almost 130 volunteers, it has been forced to more than double its size.

A new facility yards away from the charity’s current site at Tanning Court industrial estate is now in use, with the official opening set to take place on October 25.

The organisation distributed a staggering 79 tonnes of food last year following a remarkable level of donations from selfless residents across the borough – it marked a 14 per cent increase from 2017.

Residents who were provided with food vouchers over 2018 received around 72,730 meals, with around 35 per cent going to children.

Project manager David McDonald said: “There is no council ward in Warrington now that has not been affected by foodbank usage, even in the most affluent areas there are people that find themselves needing to use it.

“It was an absolute necessity that we opened a bigger premises because the demand has increased so much.”

However, when the site opened at its previous base, the team ‘never imagined’ the foodbank would still be operating seven years on.

David said: “We all thought after two to three years we would be done and would have moved onto other charities and work.

“We never thought for a minute we would still be here seven years down the road.

“We are going back to the days of the 1930s soup kitchens and how necessary they were at that time – this should never be happening today.

Warrington Guardian:

Warrington Foodbank project manager David McDonald and chair of trustees Hilda Whitfield

“What I have been saying for some time is whenever this country goes to a general election, we are non-political so it doesn’t matter to us who wins the general election, but whoever it is, they will still need the use of foodbanks throughout the next Parliament at an absolute minimum.

“People are so used to it now.”

Universal credit was brought in to replace six benefits with a single monthly payment for those on low incomes, or out of work.

But the Government has faced widespread pressure to halt the further roll-out of it following a range of problems.

Warrington was an early adopter of universal credit after being selected as a pilot area.

David believes the system is partly to blame for the increasing demand of the foodbank but says that is ‘only one side of it’.

Volunteers believe benefit delays, benefit sanctions and low wages are the main reasons.

“Universal credit has a big part to play in this and there are still 5,000 people in Warrington who need to migrate to universal credit,” he said.

“There are also so many other people who are on zero-hour contracts, people who are just not earning enough.

“We see care workers, PCSOs and other people coming to us who are in full-time employment.”

Warrington Guardian:

Warrington Foodbank is facing growing demand

The Government says it usually takes around five weeks for someone to get their first universal credit payment, after which they are paid on the same date each month.

Residents facing financial difficulties can get help and advice from the Government, local authorities and other organisations.

If someone does not have enough to live on while they wait for their first payment, they can ask for an advance payment.

They can also ask for a hardship payment if they are unable to pay for rent, heating, food or hygiene needs because they got a sanction.

However, they must pay it back through universal credit payments, which would be lower until the sum has been paid.

A senior borough councillor has hit out at the universal credit system.

Labour’s Cllr Maureen McLaughlin, the council’s cabinet member for housing, public health and wellbeing, has repeatedly expressed fears over the situation.

Warrington Guardian:

Cllr Maureen McLaughlin

The politician believes more and more people are hitting ‘crisis point’.

She said: “I’m pleased that Warrington Borough Council has been able to support Warrington Foodbank to move into larger premises to meet growing demand and I would like to thank all the foodbank volunteers and supporters for their generosity and commitment to this service.

“However, it is shocking that under this Tory Government the demand for emergency food continues to grow in our town.

“There is a clear link between the growth of demand here in Warrington and the implementation of universal credit and other welfare reforms.

“Under this system people can be left without income for weeks and sometimes months at a time.

“This is a failure of the Tory Government and fixing it should be a top priority, but sadly despite minor improvements this system is still not fit for purpose and a long way from the flagship system the Government promised.”

Furthermore, Warrington South MP Faisal Rashid believes there is a 'clear link' between the growing demand for the town’s foodbank and the rollout of universal credit.

Warrington Guardian:

MP Faisal Rashid

"The number of people using foodbanks since 2010 has gone from the tens of thousands to the millions," said the Labour politician.

"It is an absolute outrage that hunger is becoming normal in modern Britain – and it a crisis that has been engineered by the Tories in Westminster.

"Under Labour, Warrington wouldn’t need to expand its foodbank to meet demand – we would eradicate the need for foodbanks altogether."

Conservative councillor Kath Buckley, who is the chair of Warrington Citizens Advice Bureau, says it is a ‘concern’ that there is a growing demand for the foodbank.

She added: “The Government is aware that although the concept of universal credit in principle is a good one, the system in practice needs to be changed.

“It is well recorded that, for example, administrative errors, problems establishing a claim and issues over disability-related payments have caused hardship and need sorting as fast as possible.

“These changes are starting to be implemented, such as a shortened time between claim and payment.”

Warrington Guardian:

Cllr Kath Buckley

The town’s foodbank liaises with The Trussel Trust and operates under its guidelines.

On average, it is now supporting around 100 families in Warrington a week and expects to support around 150 families in the week before Christmas.

David said: “We don’t want to see anybody go hungry and we won’t let anybody go hungry.

“But there are some people who may try to abuse the system, although that is less than one per cent from the figures we have.

“We are not a corner shop and we have to safeguard our food to ensure it is distributed to those who genuinely need it.”

David was also keen to praise residents and the 128 volunteers for their generosity.

Apart from the warehouse manager, nobody at the organisation is paid for their work.

He said: “People are so, so generous. It is just give, give and give again, they are so wonderful.

“We will take any non-perishable items of food and, from time to time providing we don’t get too much, we will take a selection of fresh fruit and veg.

“We will generally take anything in a tin, packet or jar.”

David has vowed to continue doing his utmost to help those in need but believes society is ‘failing people’.

He added: “We are failing people, however, that is for Government to deal with, not us.

“But, of course, we will look after the people who need us, we have never turned anyone away.”

For further information about the foodbank, including opening times, visit warrington.foodbank.org.uk.