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Dr Holly White, a Deputy Head of the Department of Social and Political Science, and Andrew Herbert, alumnus of the MA in Practical and Contextual Theology at the University, and Mission Development Officer for the Methodist Church in Chester, are both members of the Board of Trustees for West Cheshire Foodbank. Here they share an insight into some of the challenges COVID-19 has created for sharing food with those in financial need in West Cheshire, the partnerships and practices developed to overcome challenges, and how learning during this crisis has the potential to be harnessed for a more dignified and socially just alternative approach to addressing food insecurity in West Cheshire. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented turbulence for the Foodbank sector that has necessitated West Cheshire Foodbank trustees, staff, and volunteers to give an enormous amount of time and effort to reinventing most aspects of the charity’s operation and provision in the course of only a few weeks. 

Previously a range of referral agencies, such as schools, housing management agencies and advice services, met with people in need face-to-face and gave them paper vouchers that they could take along to a local community centre that shared emergency food packages. The inability for referral agencies to meet face-to-face with people meant West Cheshire Foodbank had to implement an e-referral system, requiring tablets and training, within only a couple of days to maintain access to emergency food. Some of the local community centres that usually host the Foodbank sessions then closed and many of the charity’s existing volunteers were required to stay at home. In response, West Cheshire Foodbank had to create and coordinate the distribution of food to those in financial need via trusted neighbourhood networks. Some of these are substantial community projects that the charity knows through community development work. Others are among the many local mutual aid groups that have emerged at this time of crisis. 

With many more homeless people living in local B&Bs, hotels or temporary accommodation, a food distribution hub has been developed to specifically support homeless people. The initiative has involved forging new alliances with local community groups with experience of working closely with the homeless, and who can merge our non-perishable food provision with supplies of cooked meals and fresh food.

The charity has also experienced shifts in food donations requiring a need to manage contributions directly from supermarkets and engage in purchasing from wholesale suppliers. This has required a re-design of its warehouse to reflect the volume of food, the need for pre-packaged parcels, and the need to ensure social distancing. 

West Cheshire Foodbank is also committed to keeping in touch with the volunteers who generously donate their time and skills to supporting foodbank provision each week, many of whom have volunteered from the very beginning of foodbank, but who are currently required to stay home. We have developed a letter writing scheme and call service to help us all keep in touch, supporting and socialising. 

West Cheshire Foodbank’s endeavour to overcome challenges with change has been heavily supported by new and existing local and national partner organisations, local companies, communities, individuals and Cheshire West and Chester Council, both through councillors and the new county-wide Food Security Task Group. 

During the process of re-design of provision during the COVID-19 crisis, valuable learning and partnerships have been developed that have the potential, if effectively harnessed, to develop a stakeholder-supported alternative approach to addressing food insecurity. 

West Cheshire Foodbank began in 2012 as a temporary apparatus for compassionate support during acute crisis triggered by a government approach of austerity following financial crisis. It has been pressured into exponential growth to meet need and has become embedded into the local support infrastructure to the degree that it is institutionalised. Between February 2019 and February 2020 West Cheshire Foodbank distributed 10,453 three-day emergency food parcels. With further economic uncertainty and likely growth in those people relying upon Universal Credit, West Cheshire Foodbank anticipates another surge in local food insecurity. 

Trustees have remained committed to managing the tension of meeting need in order to protect people in times of crisis whilst questioning the normalisation of foodbanks and challenging local and central government to take responsibility for tackling poverty. West Cheshire Foodbank has developed numerous valuable and trusted partnerships to pilot various value-led alternative approaches seeking to address the need for foodbanks and inform policymakers. Partnerships range from local community groups, Cheshire West and Chester Council, Cheshire West Citizens Advice, the Welcome Network project, West Cheshire Poverty Truth Commission, the University of Chester, to, at the national level, Feeding Britain, and Trussell Trust. 

As trustees of the charity we are battling with the strategic and operational developments in the acute crisis, but we also have to think about how we renew for the emerging social and economic conditions, and the future. We are utilising our knowledge, skills and relationships developed both within and outside of the University to draw upon expertise from research partners, local organisation partners and local people with lived experience to build upon learning and partnerships developed during the crisis. It is hoped that sharing ideas and resources can produce a more positive legacy for food support that meets the varied need and vulnerabilities in the local area. 

Please help us ensure that those who are in financial need have access to food support. 

Share the Message 

West Cheshire Foodbank is helping people in the local area who are struggling to afford food during the COVID-19 crisis. 

For a referral, please contact:

Cheshire West and Chester HELP Scheme           0300 123 7065

Cheshire West Citizens Advice                              0344 576 6111

Alternatively visit the West Cheshire Foodbank website or call 0151 355 7730 for further referral options.


West Cheshire Foodbank still welcomes donations of food via supermarket collection points or Trinity Ellesmere Port.  You can also take food directly to the charity’s warehouse during its newly extended opening hours of 9am-2pm Monday to Friday. Please see updates on our website for the items we urgently need. 

We also value financial donations via the charity’s website.

Support Campaigns

End Hunger UK

Global Network for the Right to Food and Nutrition

Feeding Britain

The Trussell Trust

Thank you for your support.


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