The number of people using foodbanks in Cambridge increased by over a third last yearcambridge city foodbank

Around the country, foodbank use is on the rise. Cambridge is no different: the numbers of people relying on emergency food parcels has risen year on year since 2015, with a 34% jump in the number of people using foodbanks in Cambridge from 2017 to 2018. This increase was well above the national average.

There are plenty of factors behind this trend: the high cost of housing in Cambridge, the recent introduction of Universal Credit, and insecure employment all play their part. With social security becoming less generous in real terms, and growing numbers of people in in-work poverty, foodbanks now serve as a vital safety net for people on low incomes. In Cambridge, the Cambridge City Foodbank now supplies emergency food parcels to several hundred people a month.

This is a crisis which few students in Cambridge will ever have to confront in their time at university. Poverty and hunger are simply not as visible to students as some of Cambridge’s other crises, such as the shameful number of people forced to sleep rough. The issue of foodbank use in the local community rarely intersects with our experiences in the Cambridge University bubble.

My personal experience of foodbanks has always been much different. Not only has my family needed to rely on a foodbank in the past in times of difficulty, but my home city of Salisbury is the birthplace of the Trussell Trust which now runs foodbanks across Britain. Collections for the Salisbury Trussell Trust were a yearly routine at my secondary school – particularly at Christmas time – and so when I arrived at Cambridge, it was one of the charitable activities I was most looking to engage with.

“Poverty and hunger are simply not as visible to students as some of Cambridge’s other crises”

To that end, I joined and now help run the Cambridge University Foodbank Society in Michaelmas of my first term. We organise a collection for the Cambridge City Foodbank at the end of each term through donation points in colleges, which in recent years has grown in popularity. Since it was founded a few years ago, the society has helped put food on the tables of some of the most vulnerable people in Cambridge. That’s something we can celebrate.

As a small, student-run organisation though, the Foodbank Society has struggled to maintain presences in all colleges, lacks an established presence in faculties, and has only limited options available to it in trying to promote the local foodbank. Everyone who volunteers with the society is invaluable, not only because they give up their precious time to help, but because the number of students engaged with local foodbanks is so low.

This isn’t due to apathy on the part of students. Quite the opposite: supporting the local community, fighting against food waste and food poverty, and advocating political changes so that fewer people depend on foodbanks are things most people would support. Very few people could not be upset or outraged by the thought of people going to bed hungry in Cambridge today; very few people would not sympathise or wish to help. But the lack of awareness is simply too great.

How can we rectify this? The Foodbank Society has been a powerful vehicle to allow students to engage with these issues. But it becomes increasingly apparent that for the issues of food poverty and food waste to be higher up the agenda for students, other student organisations need to adopt the issue.

“Very few people could not be upset or outraged by the thought of people going to bed hungry in Cambridge today”

Help from JCRs, MCRs, CUSU, and other student societies would be revolutionary. By putting their existing infrastructure, clout, and resources to use on this issue, the capacity for students to support their local foodbanks would be immensely increased. A culture of donating spare food and reducing food waste could be promoted, perhaps in freshers’ week events, engaging students with local issues. And by speaking with common voice, we could send a message to the University and to events organisers that more must be done to reduce food waste. These are changes no single society could hope to produce, but could feasibly be achieved by working collaboratively.


Mountain View

‘If food waste were a country…’

This might be an ambitious suggestion. Student activists have done a great deal of fantastic work over the years on a diverse range of issues, and current discourse is centred on important campaigns which should be seen through to their completion. But the question of supporting our foodbanks is one which I hope will be taken up in the near future.

Supporting Cambridge’s foodbank is one of the most direct ways students can help alleviate poverty in the local area. More than anything, I hope people reading this article are inspired to support the foodbank when next an opportunity arises. Every donation makes a difference, whether we can notice it in the Cambridge bubble or not.

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