Manchester’s fight against food waste to help the most vulnerable survive lockdown
Written by on 22 November 2020
“We don’t tan, we rust,” laughed one woman as everyone was getting drenched in the queue.
Despite the torrential rain the line stretched almost halfway down the street by 1.30pm when the doors opened. A lockdown in November was never going to be easy.
Everyone was waiting on this street in Stretford near Old Trafford for discounted food to make sure their family gets through another week of lockdown.
It costs GBP7.50 for three big bags of groceries, that in the shops would be at least GBP30.
You get a bag of fruit and veg, a bag of cupboard items and a bag of cold foods which could be sausages, yoghurts, coleslaw – whatever has been sourced by the team that week.
The charity running the centre, The Bread and Butter Thing, is dealing with a surge in the number of families or individuals asking for help, so businesses across Manchester are stepping up to help.
Maggie Dodd is one of the volunteers inside bagging up the groceries. Like everyone on the team she’s so quick it’s hard to keep up.
“I have been homeless myself, many years ago,” she told us.
“I know what it’s like and people now are really struggling, I think it’s even harder now in a pandemic.
“People come and are picking up bags for friends or relatives or neighbours who just can’t get out of the house at the moment – there’s lots of lonely older people just staying inside all day.
“Then you’ve got that many children off school that parents are having to find the money to feed them much more than normal.”
This second lockdown in England has prompted a city-wide effort in Manchester to ensure that as much food as possible is spared from being dumped.
“This is all good food,” Maggie said, “and it’s great value for money – you are using what is still fresh product because there is so much waste the way we all live now.”
She added: “I buy the bags from here too and if there’s something I don’t need or am not that keen on I’ll do a neighbour swap – we have got a little wall at our flats where we do that.”
Marcus Rashford’s campaign on free school meals and food poverty has helped raise awareness here and across the UK, but many charities were expanding their work to cope with demand well before that started.
Another volunteer at the centre, Sinead Renold, has recently started helping out after shopping for herself like this for months.
She told us: “I’m in a vulnerable group so not only does this save me a fortune, I don’t have to go into a supermarket and put myself at added risk.”
Supermarkets here though are doing their bit.
The Co-Op food store in Spinningfields sits in an eerily quiet business district in the city centre.
It’s seen a big drop in footfall during lockdown, so the manager Dean is trying to strike a balance between still offering customers enough and not wasting too much.
Every evening his team scour the shelves for items which can’t be kept on the shelves much longer but are still within its used-by date.
Then Steve, the driver from The Bread and Butter Thing, comes to pick the goods up.
He tours supermarkets and businesses in Manchester all night, picking up donations, and often finishes close to midnight.
He told us: “It’s a bit worrying that there are so many people in need, and there are a lot of people in need, but people do seem to be buckling down and going that extra mile to help.”
He believes lockdown, furlough and growing redundancies are creating a crisis.
He said: “All of a sudden it has come back and hit us, and we are getting so busy now it is unbelievable.”
Another business that has renewed its efforts on waste is Sheldon’s Bakery in Openshaw, east Manchester.
Normally leftover product or test batches of the bakery’s famous oven bottom muffins are sent off to be compressed for animal feed, but the team are trying even harder to donate as much as they possibly can.
“This lockdown at the moment, I think things have been further exacerbated,” director Sarah Sheldon told us.
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“People have lost their jobs, people are out of work, or perhaps they have been furloughed and they are still struggling on 80%.
“If we can all pull together to help those people it makes a big difference. It doesn’t really matter how big or small your company is, if you can donate, we should all be doing it.”
Manchester City Council has helped create a city-wide support network by linking up organisations with spare food with the people who can deliver it to those in need.
Councillor Bev Craig told Sky News: “Many lessons were learned from the first national lockdown which meant that businesses and charities were in a better position to offer support this winter.
“We now need to harness that spirit again as we prepare to head into a challenging winter and do everything we can to protect vulnerable people.”