Victoria O’Farrell, a food citizen and Acting Principal at Central Lancaster High School, interviews Mike Pid of the Olive Branch.
Can you share the Olive Branch’s story?
The Olive Branch started about 15 years ago, providing an evening meal for homeless people and those in the community who were struggling to prepare and eat an evening meal. Premises were initially rented on Thurnham Street but as demand grew and the provision evolved, the Olive Branch moved to Westbourne Road. It now consists of a drop-in space and a place to provide food. The drop-ins are a safe space to just ‘be’, to chat and to be signposted for advice and guidance.
Recently, as a knock on effect of the Universal Credit system, the demand for food has increased. And more recently, with the coronavirus pandemic, the demand for food parcels is 60% higher than it was before the outbreak.
What services do you currently offer?
The Olive Branch is there for vulnerable people struggling with a wide range of issues, including housing and benefit problems, addiction and mental health problems. It also supports a large number of asylum seekers and refugees.
People are referred to the Olive Branch Food Bank by an agency, who makes an assessment of the ‘need’ of each individual and their circumstances. The referring agencies include the Citizens’ Advice Bureau, the Marsh Community Centre, Social Services, the NHS, Global Link and schools in the area. During the current unprecedented times, the food parcels are an essential provision in themselves. Prior to the pandemic, the purpose of the food parcels was to give food to those who needed it to help them into ‘normal’ society.
Ordinarily food parcels are limited to 5 parcels (1 per week for 5 weeks), to encourage self-help and not dependency. However, the need at the moment (during the pandemic) is greater than the reality of people being able to self-help.
Food is donated by individuals and community groups that include churches and Fair Share. Egg Cup (Lancaster’s surplus food distribution hub) also provides meals and food, and supermarkets donate surplus food and donations from their customers.
What are you most proud of?
Enabling individuals and families to resolve their difficulties and to support themselves is what we are most proud of.
What advice would you give to those wanting to support a food bank?
Find out what’s going on. Offer to volunteer via email or phone. Be patient, you may need to wait for someone to get back, especially at the moment – it is very busy.
If you have DBS clearance, you are in high demand for supporting people at the Olive Branch.
If we were to celebrate your work in 10 years time, what would we be celebrating?
We would continue to provide low level help (food parcels) to fewer people.
We would also have case studies of people who have relocated their lives – they are functioning well in society and are not fully dependent on the Olive Branch. They have been empowered by the work of the volunteers.