History and Foodbank
The Cooke e-Learning Foundation, known as E2, started in 2006 and the founder was Peter Smith (who went onto become the CEO and then a Trustee). Peter was a deputy of a local school, where he saw a great deal of computers being thrown away in a nearby skip. Peter set up a small room within the school to get those computers refurbished and given to local families that he knew needed this equipment. That project went really well and hundreds of computers were recycled.
However, many of the families started to mention that they didn’t really know how to use the computers properly. That inspired the next evolution of the charity - teaching people how to utilise the repaired computers. Simultaneously, the area had a new influx of communities from commonwealth countries whose first language wasn’t English. These people needed computers and computer skills, but first they had to learn how to read and write in English. This lead the charity to providing ESOL courses both digitally and face-to-face.
At this point Martin Buchanan joined the organisation. Martin is now CEO, but started by upgrading computers as a volunteer. Martin worked his way up the ranks and, when the charity diversified, he became CEO. Martin is passionate about youth and community development, and came into the role with new ambitions to work more with young people, so that is where the charity now focuses its attentions.
The IT side of things slowly decreased as the price of computers reduced. But the team keep their underpinning knowledge and experience around technology and digital skills, and continue to provide this. Currently they are delivering a contracted service for We Are Digital, helping people through Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service to access online documents, and they are also providing digital support for adults who are accessing the Holiday Hunger Scheme.
Furthermore, E2 had were delivering a weekly foodbank, set up for people who were migrating from the old benefits system to Universal Credit. There was a six-week waiting period involved and the charity didn’t want people in the area to suffer during that. This involved about 40 people a week, who were redirected to a local foodbank when the COVID19 pandemic started.
During the pandemic, E2 were a key user of FareShare in Leicester, having 3-4 large deliveries per week to their centre at Beaumont Lodge. This was a community centre that was converted into an emergency food distribution centre. At its peak, they were delivering 600 food parcels a week to the doorstep of people who were affected by COVID. It was a massive operation, involving tonnes of food, tens of thousands of meals being cooked in the kitchen (that was the only way they could make their supplies meet the demand), hundreds of volunteers, and 30-40 drivers a day coming in, collecting parcels and delivering them to an extensive area.
Running alongside the food redistribution service there was a telephone support service and an outreach service involve volunteers knocking on 13,000 doors in the area. These were essential as, due to the nature of the local area, there weren’t the community support groups that developed in other areas in the UK. People weren’t able to look after each other, there were no streets coordinating local support for vulnerable individuals. People were very isolated, staying inside their own homes, living in fear – they wouldn’t even walk outside to go to the shop. One of the team members came across a person who had passed away in their home with COVID. Team members met many people who didn’t know that food was available.
Martin said “I have to be very thankful for FareShare, because during the pandemic they kept that food coming. In addition, if that food wasn’t rolling into our centre 3 or 4 times a week – and additional supplies as well – we would have been up the creek without a paddle, and so would hundreds and hundreds of people. We’re very thankful to FareShare throughout the pandemic, they literally saved lives”.
“FareShare have been extremely supportive over the years that I’ve been working with them. During the pandemic, they stepped up when others stepped away. Even the local authority didn’t gear up any of their services for 2-3 months. However, FareShare were there on Day 1. That meant that we could plan and mobilise our service the day after we went into the first lockdown. I don’t know any other organisation, even a commercial food distribution service, who would be able to be that flexible and move that quickly. I’m really grateful to FareShare for helping us to sustain our emergency food provision over the pandemic.”
Post Lockdown, the demands on the charity slowly reduced. They couldn’t continue to support 600 people, so they had to bring in some eligibility criteria, which brought the total down to 200 people per week who were still affected by COVID, socially isolated and unable to get to the shops. This cohort of users were either disabled or not very mobile, older and proud - they wouldn’t want to go to a foodbank, as they would see that as charity.
Therefore, E2 decided to change to a food pantry, whereby the food is set out on a stall, people come along and collect the food, and pay a small subscription for it. There is a lot more choice, the users get to pick what they want, and they can sometimes pay for extra items if they are available – maybe an occasional joint of meat. The charity still offers a delivery service for those who are immobile and cannot leave their homes. They do charge extra for that, for the driver’s fuel. At the same time, the main aim of the project is to save waste, reduce the food waste mountain and save food going to landfill.
At present, the charity is starting to feel pressures including the increase in the cost of fuel. This has meant they have had to increase the amount that the drivers are charging, which puts pressure on the users.
Martin said “we have families that we know would be struggling if they didn’t use our service. The rise in the costs of electricity and gas are starting to bite now, and we expect and are ready for an expansion of the food pantry service. We only run it one day a week at the moment, but we are prepared to run it on other days. The expectation is that in the short-to-medium term the need for the food pantry will increase significantly.”
Martin said: “people might be financially secure at the moment, they might have savings. As they see their disposable incomes reduce, the food prices rise, the availability of food decrease, I think we’re going to see a whole group of people who were previously self-sustaining and able to provide for themselves in regards to food, start to need support”.
Moreover, E2 is already seeing more community shop/food pantry style stores opening up in the local area. They can see that the need is growing already (the charity has seen a 15% increase in users over the past couple of months. If the new stores hadn’t opened, they believe that could have been between 25-50%).
Martin said “If energy prices increase again at the end of the year, as predicted, we think food will become even more important. We know there is an emerging issue with rising food prices. By looking at the issues from Ukraine with the supply of wheat – there are so many different issues hitting the global supply chains right now – we could be looking at a perfect storm in terms of people’s disposal income and how much they can afford.”
At that point, the charity is ready to gear up, to expand and meet the additional need. Martin said “FareShare is key to this potential activity. I can’t see how we could even think about running a similar response to any of these emerging issues, without FareShare in the picture.”