Thursday 20 June 2024
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Cost of living: Hundreds turn to the Himmah Food Bank in Radford

Hundreds of people are now turning to food banks in Nottingham as they suffer with the ‘cost of living crisis’ which is sweeping across the country.

One of the biggest food banks in Nottingham says it is “dreading winter” as the summer months, usually the quietest, are seeing a record number of people reaching out for help.

Former military man, Andy Holehouse, knows what it’s like to live on a shoestring. He doesn’t have a choice.

After household bills are paid, he is left with £25 a week to look after his wife and disabled son.


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Andy Holehouse explains what life is like living on £25 a week to support his family

There are ‘no treats.’ No holidays or takeaways. He has even had to cancel his gas supply to avoid additional pressure on his already stretched budget.

You will find no dishwasher in his Radford home.

A kettle is boiled to limit water supply so that tasks like washing up and making a brew can be performed at the same time.

The self-employed pest controller also hunts for his own meat on private land with the landowner’s written consent. Rabbits, hares, and wood pigeons are cooked to give his family a good meal.

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Mr Holehouse, 61, knows how to survive. He joined the Army Cadets when he was 14 and has served with the 17th/21st Lancers in Nottingham and overseas.

He claims Universal Credit and is not entitled to his state pension yet.

He said: “You are not living. You exist. That’s the term I use. When I was abroad, you go to a third-world country, and you see people who are waiting days for food. You come back home, and the third-world country is sitting on your doorstep, and it is you.”

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The team at the Himmah Food Bank in Radford

Mr Holehouse supports his wife, 60, and his 32-year-old son, who has a muscle-wasting condition called muscular dystrophy.

“You have to make cold, hard, logical choices,” he said. “I have a house to keep and a family to support and that is my responsibility and my choice. They are the things I must do.

“You start to buy the goods that are readily available and cheap – rice, pasta, and noodles.

“You use 12 litres of water to operate a dishwasher, but if you boil two kettles you have a bowl of water for washing up and a cup of tea.

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Shelves stocked with food at the Himmah Food Bank in Radford

“You have potentially used four litres of water and very little electricity. I ride a bike rather than a car. I also live off the land. This helps feed my family.

“You need electric for lights and a cooker, so we got an electric heater, and we have no gas. Gas is a secondary bill, and it takes more out of your pocket.”

The Government announced in May that a package of financial support is on its way, helping millions of the most vulnerable households.

They will receive at least £1,200 of support in total this year to help with the cost of living, with all domestic electricity customers receiving at least £400 to help with their bills from October.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak said at the time: “We know that people are facing challenges with the cost of living and that is why I’m stepping in with further support to help with rising energy bills.

“We have a collective responsibility to help those who are paying the highest price for the high inflation we face.

“That is why I’m targeting this significant support to millions of the most vulnerable people in our society. I said we would stand by people and that is what this support does.”

Mr Holehouse says this feels like “a one-off” gesture and it won’t solve the problems indefinitely as the price of living continues to soar.

He said: “Money at the top is not coming down the chain. You get a drip and a drop. It is not in constant supply.

“Politicians don’t live in the real world. They have never survived on a real wage or on a zero hours’ contract. They are out of touch.”

Mr Holehouse uses the Himmah Food Bank in Radford, which supports up to 350 people a week, who are also struggling with the rising cost of living.

He believes the numbers are just “the tip of the iceberg.”

“Pride gets in the way,” he said. “Older people say they have lived through worse and survived it, but they were younger then and their money went further. Back then, you had value for money.

“I know what it is like on that ladder and a lot of new people are about to join us. They are going to have to make the choices they thought they would never have to make.”

The Himmah Food Bank, based in Radford, is one of the biggest in Nottingham.

It stocks two tonnes of food a week. Its shelves are packed with boxes of cereal and cans of baked beans and tomatoes – an army of volunteers racing across the shop floors to ensure today’s parcels are ready for delivery.

The charity can spend up to £1,000 a week feeding Nottingham’s most vulnerable in areas such as Radford, Lenton, Mapperley, Clifton and Bestwood.

Customers are usually referred to the service from places like Nottingham City Council or homelessness charity Framework.

Last summer, the number of people using the food bank dipped to around 100 but since October it has continued to rise, now supporting up to 350 people.

Despite all the great work that goes on inside this small industrial building in Gamble Street, deputy director Shoana Qureshi-Khan said she would rather this place did not exist at all.

“We don’t want this place to exist,” she stressed. “You ask anyone here and they will say the same. It is an injustice to local people. There is no need for hunger in this country.

“The rapid increase is frightening. We all find it deeply shocking.

“We have delivered to people who are carers, cleaners, even nurses. People have just hit hard times. Twenty per cent are working families or people who have just lost work.

“If you came two weeks ago our shelves were empty and it was bleak.”

She said most of the food is surplus, meaning it has reached the best before date or been taken off the supermarket shelves due to space issues or not performing well with customers.

But when food runs out, the charity sometimes must trawl the shops itself to source much-needed items to deliver a week’s worth of food to Nottingham’s people.

She said: “We need a long-term funding strategy to keep going. Sometimes we can only forecast for six months – but if we have a sudden increase and food rises then that just reduces further.”

The food bank employs four members of staff on a full-time / part-time basis but has an army of around 100 volunteers on its books.

Charlie Wilkins, 22, is a third-year University of Nottingham student. He has volunteered at the food bank since November. He joined up to make a difference on a local level.

“The sheer amount of people (we support) has really shot up.

“You wonder how people are failed by a government in place to help them. It has gone from 100 to around 300 since the time I have been here. It’s just gone up and up.”

Shoana Qureshi-Khan says recent statistics show that around 1,000 more people are now using food banks across the city, and this is just ‘the tip of the iceberg.’ She worries for the future.

“We usually see a dip in the summer because people don’t put heating on, but we are not seeing that dip. We are dreading the winter.”

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