THE rise in use of food banks in one of Brighton’s most deprived areas is more than three times the national average.

Whitehawk Foodbank has seen a year-on-year increase of 40 per cent in the number of people it supplies since it opened at St Cuthmans Church three years ago.

Nationally, the average increase is 13 per cent.

The figures released last week by the Trussell Trust, which runs the Whitehawk branch, reveal 1,328 people were fed by its three-day emergency food supplies from April 1 last year to March 31 this year.

Of that number, 414 were children.

Anne Amner, of the food bank in Whitehawk Way, invited The Argus to the church to see how it works and speak to a user of the service.

She said: “We’ve got really busy. The numbers have really increased, but people are very motivated to help us.”

Ms Amner said one small event in someone’s life can have a huge knock-on effect.

She said the worst case that has forced someone into using the Whitehawk Foodbank was a man who had broken up with his girlfriend.

He worked full time in maintenance but then had to sleep on a friend’s sofa and soon after injured himself in an accident at work.

Because he could not work, he lost his job.

“He went from having a girlfriend to having no relationship, no money, nowhere to live and no job,” Ms Amner said.

“He had to claim benefits, something he never did before. Things can just flip upside down so quickly.”

From April 1, 2015, when the Whitehawk bank opened, to March 31, 2016, it had 350 clients.

However, the number of users is greater, as they are going to feed families. The 350 supplies that year fed 836 people.

The following year, there were 326 clients, feeding 950 people.

In the past 12 months, 671 clients have used the food bank, feeding the 1,328.

That takes the total number of clients over the three years to 1,452, with 3,133 being aided by the service.

Doug Curties, manager of the Whitehawk Foodbank, said: “We don’t want to be here for ever.

“No one in Whitehawk and East Brighton should need a food bank’s help and we want to see an end to local people needing emergency food at all.”

It is more than just food offered at the church, though.

Financial advice is available to users of the service to help them learn and balance their money situations – something, the bank says, is typically the root of many clients’ problems.

The team of some 20 volunteers make the process run like clockwork, taking hours out of their Wednesday to assort the many donated items into groups.

There are hygiene items such as toothbrushes, shampoos and conditioners in one section. Even pet food is donated for the clients with animals.

The food bank team is split into five sections: befrienders, who spend time with users; runners, who take the food to them; packers, who put together the hampers; re-stockers, who take food from the store room; and store room teams, who assort the donations.

'I didn't want to be given food by someone else'

TONY Smedley has been using the Whitehawk Foodbank for the past eight months.

A father of three, he fell on hard times for family reasons and could not afford to provide for his wife and daughter, who he lives with, every day of the week.

Tony, of Plaistow Close in Whitehawk, could barely bring himself to go to St Cuthmans Church after being referred by his doctor.

“The first day I came here, I stood outside for ten minutes and was almost sick,” 49-year-old Tony said.

“I thought to myself, ‘I’m a grown man, I can’t do this’.

“I didn’t want to get given food from other people. But as soon as I came in the staff made me feel comfortable and not ashamed.

“It’s not a very pleasurable experience but the people that are here make it a pleasure in a way.

“They are coming from a good place and want to help.”

Tony moved to Brighton from Epsom 20 years ago with his wife and two young children.

He worked full time at a Sainsbury’s store but could not afford rent and went into arrears, later being evicted.

Tony moved south and was transferred to a Sainsbury’s branch here.

But the mental damage of being kicked out of his home became too much for him.

“The stress of being evicted and moving was too much,” he said.

“Having two young children made it even harder.

“It brought on anxiety and depression and I’ve suffered from it since. I had to leave the job because of it.”

Sitting in the food bank talking to The Argus, Tony is very open about his personal life and reveals the details of his life over the past two decades.

He had another daughter three years after he moved to Brighton and managed to get back into full-time work.

A cabinet maker by trade, Tony began working for a crafting company for about three years.

However, things soon got bad again. “The company went bankrupt,” Tony said. “Since then, I haven’t worked. It’s all been too much.”

Tony has been out of a job for the past 12 years, claiming employment and support allowance, given to people who are ill or disabled and cannot work because of this.

Between him and his wife, the household receives £330 per fortnight, but it is not enough to cover for his daughter as well, falling short by about £70 – and this is why he comes to the food bank.

He is a regular visitor, going along each Wednesday for a three-day supply of food. Tony gets a selection of non-perishable food, helping him scrape by.

He said the past couple of years have been tough – because of family reasons.

He said: “It has been a horrendous two years,” said Tony. “We are on a slow road to recovery.

“I just want to try to support my family in any way I can.”

The food bank has helped Tony have a new outlook on life.

He believed he was in a “downwards spiral”, unable to cover bills and put food on the table – it was one or the other.

“Did I think there wasn’t a light at the end of the tunnel? Of course,” Tony said.

“But things are getting better.

“Sitting in the food bank once a week, you get to see all kinds of people from addicts to people who have just fallen through the system that’s meant to catch them.”

Tony wants to get into full-time work eventually and said he has been applying for jobs but to no avail.

He said: “In my long-term plan nothing would give me more pleasure than seeing my family happy.

“There is nothing more important to me than their wellbeing.

“For myself, I would like nothing better than to have a job and contribute to society in that way.”

'Positive feedback makes me happy'

THE volunteers at Whitehawk Foodbank range in age and background.

Their decisions to offer their time and labour also differ.

For 20-year-old Saffron Noble it is simple: helping people less privileged than herself makes her feel good.

She works in the store room for a number of hours each Wednesday, blending her volunteer work into her busy schedule of a full-time pharmacy job and studying for a degree with the Open University.

Saffron, from Brighton, pictured here with fellow volunteer Lance Collins, has been working at the food bank for about a year.

She said: “Living in Brighton, I saw the amount of homeless people and needy living here.

“I wanted to help these kind of people. We always get positive feedback and I always feel very happy with that.”

Her day consists of organising donated items into correct places, from tinned foods to shampoo, conditioner and sanitary towels.

The store rooms are in the community centre, a separate building behind St Cuthmans Church, where the food bank is based.

Saffron and the team have to ensure all items are in date order before they are put in hampers.

“I love it,” Saffron, one of about 20 volunteers, said.

“Every time I come here I always have fun and we have a laugh.

“We make sure we go over to the church to see the clients.”

To find out how you can get help at a food bank, speak to your doctor, social worker or health visitor, who can refer you to your nearest one.