Introduction and comment
This Report comes at a time of change: local, national, international and within our own organization. It aims to bring you up-to-date with where we stand right now, and in readiness for what might be a rocky road ahead. So, where are we?
Locally, nationally and internationally the Coronavirus pandemic is affecting our lives like never before. It effects on our health, economy, the way we work or spend our leisure time, and how we shop: it impacts our means of communication, our way of travel, our social lives and more. Meanwhile the Constitution of the United Kingdom is failing as our Government institutes more and more decrees and laws without the full scrutiny of Parliamentary debate, or discussion between devolved administrations and central Government, and BREXIT is close with many saying we are unprepared.
Within Raven House Trust change is also taking place. Our Chief Executive, Margaret Smith, is about to step down from her current role and make way for a new and possibly younger leadership. We thank Maggie for her help and support in the past and wish her successor, Noreen Hinton every success in the future.
Our own Food Bank has seen, and continues to witness change.
At the time of writing, we at Caldicot Food Bank are looking at a possible new way forward.
Recent months have seen several challenges:
- Last Christmas our Christmas Parcel Scheme resulted in nearly one hundred additional parcels being sent out at what is always a busy time of year. We anticipate an even busier time this Christmas.
- Finding a new Warehouse property, moving into it, and working within the smaller space now provided has also presented its challenges.
We thank the County Council for providing our current warehouse building and for the three-year lease we now enjoy (to the end of 2022). We’d also like to thank MHA (Monmouthshire Housing Association), along with an anonymous supporter, for preparing a hitherto almost derelict building, and making it habitable.
MHA too supplied transport for moving our fixtures and some of the stock. Finally, of course, the move would not have been executed without the commitment of our Volunteers and those they enlisted to help pack and move hundreds of boxes of supplies.
Inevitably this move resulted in capital expense on fixtures, as well as on consumables such as health and hygiene measures. Thankfully a Welsh Government Grant obtained from the County Council helped reduce the total cost of the move.
- The pandemic. The sudden ‘Lock-down’ brought about major change in the availability of Volunteers and with the way we operated.
At a time when the majority of volunteers found themselves having to self-isolate: thankfully there was a sufficient hard-core of enablers to keep us going. At the same time a number of outsiders stepped up to help!
We thank them all, especially those who’ve gone the extra mile to ensure we could retain, as close as possible, our usual way of working.
Community support has also proved outstanding: not least with volunteers, food supplies and money.
Funding and supplies. At the end of this report you’ll find a Financial Statement which indicates how our funds have also grown in the past few months. Financially, we’re in a healthy position however, we suspect the worst effects of the Pandemic on our lives, and on the economy, are yet to come. It’s good to have the safety net.
News that Waitrose are to close their Caldicot local store on 6 December is a huge disappointment. In recent years donations from this store’s Community Matters Fund has been sizeable, and is a major contributor to our current financial health. Waitrose customers’ donations to our Collection Point will also be hugely missed, as are those which used to be placed in the Collection Points at Caldicot Library and Caldicot Comprehensive School.
Thankfully, the Co-op in Magor has recently started collecting donations which will benefit us, and we thank ASDA and both the Co-ops – West End and Magor – for their on-going support. Plans are currently afoot to recommence collections at Caldicot Comprehensive.
During the pandemic our normal way of working was disrupted. Closure of Caldicot Library meant different ways of delivering emergency parcels had to be found. The County Council stepped up and became both an essential co-ordinating centre for all the four in the County Food Banks (Abergavenny, Caldicot, Chepstow and Monmouth), and a delivery service to those clients isolating at home.
Additionally, with many Agency Workers functioning from home, and Government put financial provisions in place in an attempt to protect the economy. As a result our mix of clients changed. Historically our clients have largely been those either between jobs and awaiting their first Universal Credit payment, or those in debt and unable to pay their rent. Early on in the pandemic a large number of our clients altered from the former, to those suffering from domestic abuse and/or family brake-down.
Now that some of the Government measures are coming to an end, and with them the many protections the population have received. As a result we expect to see many problems ahead, not least:
- Rising rates of Covid-19 infection,
- Food price inflation. For instance, RPI (Retail Price Inflation) is rising and the Food & Agriculture Organization of the UN are predicting a 2% rise going forward, which when compared to our UK CPI price inflation of 0.4%, is frighteningly high.
- The recent poor wheat harvest seems likely to impact bread prices with the BBC predicting a thirty-eight (38%) percent jump in price by February (Source: BBC on 26 August).
- At this stage no-one knows the impact BREXIT will have on supply and prices in the New Year. It’s yet another factor to consider.
- Debt and debt repayments – during the Pandemic, and thanks to Government interventions, many people have taken the opportunity to reduce personal debts. However, per UK household, an average of £1,836is paid in annual interest repayments alone. Per person that’s an average of £969 a year. These continue to rise.
- Unpaid rent on properties has also increased during the Pandemic, with an estimated 750,000 UK tenancies affected. From earlier this week – 20 September – courts started again dealing with eviction notices, and as eviction protection came to an end. Meanwhile homelessness is again on the rise: only last week we were contacted regarding two teenagers no-one would house.
- Unemployment is on the rise: July’s figures tell us total unemployment across the United Kingdom was 4.1% (Source: ONS). However, no-one seems to know where exactly this might go, with some predicting a ten to twelve per cent (10% to 12%) UK unemployment rate by January. That means up to five million people being out of work across the UK
- Leadership and staff going forward
Our Chairman has always operated both as Chairman, and as Manager: however, with age and health against his continuing under Covid-19 conditions, we were very grateful when a local County Councilor – Joanne Watkins – volunteered to relieve him of the day-to-day management role, and on a temporary basis.
Currently we’re advertising for a permanent manager, and we hope Joanne will continue to stay involved as she concentrates on her political career.
Meanwhile, we welcome all new volunteers, and thank those who have decided to end their commitment to us, particularly those forced to quit for health reasons.
- Demand for parcels
During the pandemic demand has increased and Last Christmas was the busiest in our history! Then we had two quiet months before the Covid-19 Pandemic started to take off.
British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, then made an unprecedented address to the nation at 8.30pm on March 23, announcing that new measures were being introduced to put the UK in a state of lockdown. At that stage there were just over 2,700 cases a day (as of today – 22 September – there are just short of 5000 cases daily, but we’re now in a new wave of infections).
In recent months we’ve seen very few coming to us with debt problems as the Government provisions have, on the whole, been protecting them. Around April and May our biggest call was from those forced from their homes as a result of family break-downs and domestic violence. More recently we’ve been very quiet, but I fear it’s the lull before the storm.
Very soon the Government protections people had from repayment of debts, fuel and water bills, rent and mortgage repayments, are all due to finish. State-backed loans for business, the furlough scheme and much more is being wound down. Meanwhile unemployment is rising fast, and food price inflation is fifty percent higher than CPI (Consumer Price Inflation). Indeed, Britain has just experienced a very poor wheat harvest which, as I’ve said, is likely to see the price of bread rise forty percent this winter.
How much we can do going forward depends on our Agencies, our Supporters and our Volunteers. We can’t carry on helping those most at need in our communities without you: and we trust we can continue to rely on you.
22nd September, 2020