As the cost-of-living crisis continues to soar, thousands of people are turning to food banks. The New Forest Food bank, in Lymington, is just one of many who have observed a significant rise in demand

Back in 2004, New Milton-based church pastor, John Begbour, recognised a need to help the community and support the less fortunate. The bank has now become an essential support service within the New Forest and is run entirely by a group of over 200 volunteers. They have three main areas of operation; the Food Bank, the FareShare Larder and the Food Rescue Kitchen.  

Great British Life: Chairman Oliver StanleyChairman Oliver Stanley (Image: Mattea McKinnon)

Chairman Oliver Stanley talks through the process: ‘Each parcel is designed to feed a household for a week - three meals a day. We offer non-perishable food items, personal hygiene items and basic household essentials. About 80% of the parcels we provide are delivered and geographically, we cover a triangular patch from the Beaulieu River in the east to Barton on Sea, Walkford and Bransgore in the west, up to Lyndhurst in the north. We operate with a referral model and we work with around 100 different organisations.’ 

Oliver divides his time between the New Forest Food Bank and helping out at community larders. Today, he’s spent the morning handing out parcels at the FairShare larder in Ashley, near New Milton. 

Describing the difference between the two he says: ‘Community larders are a step away from the food bank. You don’t need a referral and you make small contributions up to £5. The food all comes from FareShare and you don’t know what you’re going to get. Whereas with the NF food bank it is much more prescriptive - you could genuinely feed a family with what you come away with.’ 

Great British Life: The atmosphere at the community larder is upbeat and light-heartedThe atmosphere at the community larder is upbeat and light-hearted (Image: Mattea McKinnon)

The atmosphere both in the queue and behind the scenes is light-hearted and fun. Rachel, who is waiting in line for her package, expresses her gratitude: ‘The food is really good - you never know what you are getting, there is a surprise element to it.’ She continues: ‘We started using it in lockdown when my husband was furloughed, and we have come along ever since - it’s consistent and it’s every week. You get way more than what you would buy in the shop for £5. It’s been a huge help as it has really been a struggle. Everything has gone up, it’s ridiculous. Prices in our little shops have increased so much. A lot of older people don’t drive and can’t get to the bigger shops to get the cheaper prices. The people that do this are so friendly, helpful and kind. They don’t make you feel less than somebody else. It’s absolutely fantastic. They do anything they can to help you. I’ve also made a couple of friends in the queue that I wouldn’t have met before.’ 

Great British Life: Yomi appreciates the community spirit at the FareShare larderYomi appreciates the community spirit at the FareShare larder (Image: Mattea McKinnon)

Yomi, who has just collected his parcel, adds: ‘They are great community-based people who are protecting our interests all the time.’ Another volunteer says: ‘It’s been a god-send.’ 

After all the packages have been collected at FareShare, we head to the food bank in Lymington, to have a look around the headquarters. Everything is impeccably organised, with gluten-free and vegan sections catering for those with specific dietary requirements. Volunteers re-stock shelves with iPads and keep notes of everything going in and out, to ensure everything is recorded and nothing goes to waste.  

Great British Life: Dobrova and family have moved to the UK from UkraineDobrova and family have moved to the UK from Ukraine (Image: Mattea McKinnon)

Dobrova is a Ukrainian refugee who has arrived in the UK with her mother and baby boy. She is assisted by a volunteer down each aisle and able to pick out her package.  

Oliver explains: ‘We like to allow the refugees to pick out their own food and items as often they may want different things to the usual British family, as traditional dishes differ. This ensures nothing gets wasted. There is no point giving a family something they don’t want or won’t use.’ 

Dobrova explains the importance of this organisation: ‘I can’t work at the moment. It’s been very essential to us as a family - our host told us about this place after we arrived here. Compared to Ukrainian prices, everything in the UK is really expensive and this has been so helpful.’ 

Trustee and Operations Manager, Hilary Tudor, talks about the wealth divide across Hampshire: ‘There are some incredibly wealthy areas but among them, pockets of real poverty, especially around Pennington, Ashley and New Milton. There are definitely families in need; there always have been, which is why this all started.’ 

Great British Life: The food bank relies upon the excellent band of volunteers to keep things working well for the local communityThe food bank relies upon the excellent band of volunteers to keep things working well for the local community (Image: Mattea McKinnon)

Among other volunteers, Hilary runs several weekly Larders with FareShare, helping to make user’s money go further by reducing their food shopping bills. She says: ‘I love volunteering here. Not only does the bank make a real difference for some people, but I love spending time with the other volunteers in such a friendly and positive environment.’ 

Every night, Food Rescue Kitchen volunteers visit up to seven local supermarkets and pick up food that is otherwise going to be discarded. It is then redistributed to people in need. 

This group of selfless and dedicated individuals highlight the power of working together to make a difference and help those less fortunate. During these testing times, food banks are being used now more than ever and it is a testament to the committed volunteers and generous donators that they are able to operate.  

Great British Life: Everything at the food bank is impeccably organised, with vegan and gluten-free options to choose from tooEverything at the food bank is impeccably organised, with vegan and gluten-free options to choose from too (Image: Mattea McKinnon)

Oliver’s motivation and dedication is clear: ‘I really care and am genuinely passionate about it. It has to be two things - it has to be professional and it has to be fun. Noone is being paid so it absolutely has to be fun. This is really only a sticking plaster or a stepping stone - then people can move on. We are not the solution. We are the short term solution but not the long term – and the support that we have had has been second to none. We have to facilitate to get the clients to want to move on. We also help people to get working again. We’ve now got people that used the food bank who now work here - we can provide the right environment for people to prosper. On the whole - from my experience, well over 90% are very grateful and incredibly nice.’ 

He smiles, eyes twinkling: ‘I’ve had more satisfaction and fun from doing this from anything else I’ve done in the last 40 years.’ 

Great British Life: It's helping local families and seeing smiles on faces that powers the volunteers at the food bankIt's helping local families and seeing smiles on faces that powers the volunteers at the food bank (Image: Mattea McKinnon)

Other volunteers agree in the background. He adds, ‘and we’ve all done a lot of stuff!’