Purple Pantry: Fighting back against the increasingly-pressing issue of food poverty in Preston

Jackie BirdJackie Bird
Jackie Bird
The UK is the fifth-richest country on the planet. Despite this fact, the past decade has seen living standards and wage growth dip to the lowest they’ve been in peacetime since the Napoleonic Wars.

In fact, since 2010, the number of people receiving at least three days’ worth of emergency food from Trussell Trust foodbanks has skyrocketed from 41,000 in 2010 to 2.5m - an almost-6,000% increase. Seeking to ameliorate the impact of such stark figures in Preston, Purple Pantry is offering people high-quality fresh food at reduced prices

Through partnerships with the likes of FareShare Preston, James Hall & Co., and Spar, the initiative - initially launched by Community Gateway as a seven-week trial scheme in July 2020 - sells donated surplus stock through a membership scheme which helps to lessen the impact of rising weekly food bills.

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“We’ve been helping people access food since long before Covid but, when Covid did hit, we were doing 19-hour days to ensure vulnerable people were fed,” says Jackie Bird, the Manager of Community Gateway’s Tenancy Support Team. “It was hectic, but FareShare had the food, it was just about distributing it - some days we sent out over 1,000 bags of food.

Food being sorted before Purple Pantry launchedFood being sorted before Purple Pantry launched
Food being sorted before Purple Pantry launched

“We also got a lot of feedback: some people said they didn’t want free food because, while they could afford to buy it, they just couldn’t access it, and others said they didn’t like certain things or couldn’t cook this and that and so had ended up throwing stuff away,” adds Jackie. “We realised we had to get the right food to the right people, otherwise we were creating food waste.

“That’s where the idea for a food hub which gave people choice came from,” she continues. “Cheaper fresh food which allowed people to come and go as they pleased. Charity wrapped in dignity. Unfortunately, there’s still a stigma attached to foodbanks: some people don’t feel they’re struggling enough to rely on them but don’t have everything to make life comfortable.

“I mean, we had families coming in saying yoghurts for the kids were a luxury.”

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As Jackie says, Purple Pantry - which is based at Moor Nook Community Office - isn’t a foodbank, instead catering to those who do have some form of financial means, be that universal credit, benefits, or wages, but who are squeezed by rising food prices and stagnant pay. In its first 24 weeks, Purple Pantry was visited by 3,474 households and amassed 650 members.

Purple PantryPurple Pantry
Purple Pantry

With some 150 households now visiting the pantry on a weekly basis, members can browse and select products at their own leisure, with items given a value between one and 10 (for reference, 25 points-worth of items usually equates to around £30- to £40-worth of food). Any excess stock is then subsequently distributed to the other 48 food hubs, including foodbanks, in Preston.

“The pantry also allows us to teach people about budgeting, buying essentials, and cooking,” says Jackie. “People love it; now we get some people on universal credit who come in and forward-pay for the entire month, which is great because we’re giving people the chance to be responsible and smart with their money. It’s been really successful.

“There’s a lot of work involved, but it’s like my little baby,” she adds. “We’ve created a wraparound service too: through my work with the tenancy team, we made sure we weren’t just giving out free food but that we were getting to the bottom of any issues as well. There’d be nothing I’d like to see more than pantries all over the country - they cultivate trust and community.

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“We’ve all become friends, so people open up more and we can then help,” says Jackie. “If people come in without any money, they’ll leave with some food; we won’t see anyone going without. There shouldn’t be a stigma around food because, if people are hungry, they’re hungry. They just need affordable food and we’ve got that so, if you need it, just come along.”

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