ACCORDING to data from the latest Scottish census, Cumbernauld has some 52,270 residents living in around 22,105 households, and despite 71 per cent of homes in the town being owner-occupied, and 52.5% of Cumbernauld residents declaring themselves to be in ‘very good’ health, during the last census, the town is home to a shameful secret: three foodbanks. 

In Cumbernauld, three foodbanks serve the numerous communities of what has been dubbed a dystopian concrete jungle; one is organised and run by the Salvation Army, out of their Kildrum office, while the other two are pulled together by a number of volunteers and local churches, under the guise of ‘Bethlehem House of Bread’. 
 
Bethlehem House of Bread offers a variety of goods. All pictures in this article are by Scott Campbell for Cumbernauld Media.
 
Data from the 2012 Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation even labels parts of the town – designated a ‘New Town’ merely sixty years ago – as among some of the most deprived areas in the whole of Scotland. 
 
The Index found that most deprived datazone in the Cumbernauld and Kilsyth Scottish Parliament constituency, in 2012, was ‘S01004890’, in other words: the intermediate zone of Cumbernauld Central. It was given a ranking of 96, placing it in the 5% of most deprived communities in Scotland.
 
According to the statistics, the number of datazones in Scotland’s 15% most deprived which belonged to Cumbernauld and Kilsyth increased slightly between the Index of 2009 and 2012; increasing from 3 (0.3%) of the 976 datazones in the 15% most deprived datazones in Scotland, in 2009, to 5 (0.5%), in 2012.
 
The shameful rise up national rankings was accompanied by an increase in the number of datazones within the Cumbernauld and Kilsyth constituency which fell into the classification of the ‘15% most deprived in Scotland’, with 5 datazones (6%) of Cumbernauld and Kilsyth's 84 zones found in the 15% classification, in 2012, compared to 3 (4%) in 2009.
 
At the same time as Cumbernauld was rising up the national rankings of deprivation, the number of locals relying on state support rose too, with a claimant count nearing 5% after the UK coalition government announced a raft of benefit reforms and austerity measures.
 
In February 2011, the claimant count was at 4.5%, decreasing slightly to 4.3 per cent in April 2011, before increasing again to 4.7% by March 2012, after which the count slumped to 4.4 per cent the following month, before continual and gradual decline in the claimant count.
 
Figures released by the Office for National Statistics in May 2013 showed that, on the previous year, there had been a 0.3% drop in the number of people claiming Job Seeker’s Allowance in the Cumbernauld and Kilsyth constituency, though the focus on JSA clouds the wider picture. This was followed by figures from December 2014 which showed a 2.3 per cent claimant count in the constituency.
 
Despite what appears to be on the face of it to be improving figures, some people in Cumbernauld are struggling, with a number of families now having to turn towards foodbanks for essential support. To learn more about what these vital voluntary services do, and how they are run, Cumbernauld Media visited the Bethlehem House of Bread food co-operative on Thursday (16th July) evening. 
 
Originally founded in late 2011 by Norma and Joe Cowan (right), the Bethlehem House of Bread began by handing a small amount of groceries out of a cupboard in Cornerstone Christian Fellowship to a handful of people. Nowadays, the foodbank runs a number of various services, including a soup kitchen and financial advice, with over 20 people relying on their support each week.
 
People needed “help feeding their kids.”
 
Speaking to Cumbernauld Media’s Scott Campbell, Norma Cowan, the foodbank’s Administrator explained the background of what has grown to become one of the town’s most used foodbanks. 
 
“In September 2011, my husband and I decided that there was people in the community who needed a bit of help; they might not necessarily have been on the breadline, but they were needing help feeding their kids and such like. 
 
“Deciding to do something about it, we bought £200 worth of groceries, asked the Pastor of Cornerstone Church for a cupboard, and opened up the foodbank, which very quickly grew and grew.
 
“In 2012 we grew more as another couple came alongside us. David and Alethea asked if they could bring in some clothes to give away, in case people needed it. That was in 2012, though the following year saw us continue to grow."
 
Bethlehem House of Bread offers a variety of goods. All pictures in this article are by Scott Campbell for Cumbernauld Media.
 
“In 2013, we were getting busier and busier, and we were depending mainly on people from the church to donate groceries and to help us; and, even though the people in the church got alongside us, and helped, which was great, it was still getting busier and busier. 
 
“Then, Craighalbert Church, in Balloch, came along and asked whether we needed any help, offering to do a soup kitchen for us.
 
“We had always wanted to do a soup kitchen, but we simply couldn’t afford to do it all, until Craighalbert Church said that they would bring in all of the stuff and run the kitchen, which was absolutely fantastic. 
 
“After the soup kitchen opened people started coming along earlier and earlier on a Thursday because of it, meaning we could sit down and chat with them, talk to them, and find out if there was anything else that needed done. 
 
“Just around that time, a couple from the church started up a course called ‘CAP’, Christians Against Poverty, and they deal with peoples’ finances. As a result, we were then able to offer the people who were coming along help, if they needed it, with their finances.”
  
Foodbank rebrand.
 
Speaking to us immediately after volunteers had handed out bags of food and boxes of clothing to some 23 people and families, Norma explained how the foodbank undertook a rebranding exercise to encourage those needing help to come along, and not feel ashamed of using their services. 
 
“By last year we decided that there was a lot of people needing help who wouldn’t come to a ‘foodbank’, but nevertheless, they were struggling to feed their families,” Norma explained.
 
“At one point we were getting quite a lot of donations in from the schools; the schools were giving us their harvest donations and other people were getting alongside us, including the churches, so we decided we should open up a co-op.
 
“We decided that opening a co-op would mean that people who were struggling, but who didn’t necessarily want to come to a foodbank, could come in and choose want they wanted, and we could make the groceries as cheap as possible. 
 
“That way, it gives people a little more pride, a little bit more independent decision-making about where they’re going and what they need, rather than just coming to a foodbank and being handed a bag of groceries."
 
Bethlehem House of Bread foodbank is held at Cornerstone House. All pictures in this article are by Scott Campbell for Cumbernauld Media. 
 
“We started up the food co-op, and we got some help from the North Lanarkshire Food Forum; they gave us vouchers that we could actually give to people, so people coming along could get these vouchers, and use either or cash when out shopping.
 
“The food co-op has been a good success as there’s a marvellous turnover, because sometimes we get food into the foodbank that’s just about to go out-of-date, and as we don’t like throwing anything out, it means we have a lot of stuff that we take it up to the co-op, sell it off really cheaply, and put the money back into the foodbank, paying for the milk and the bread, and things that we run out of, that we might not necessarily have money to get,” Norma added. 
 
‘Every week has different numbers’.
 
Continuing to discuss demands placed on the foodbank by its users, Norma explained to us that the number of people coming along each week changes, but that the trend of hand-outs is increasing, year-on-year.
 
Around 20 people attend the foodbank every week. All pictures in this article are by Scott Campbell for Cumbernauld Media.
 
“I order groceries from ASDA every week, because even with the generosity of people, there’s things that we run out of,” she said. 
 
“We might have loads of beans and loads of soup, but no cereals, for example. Or, we don’t have any main course meals, so I end spend between £50 and £100 a week in ASDA to make up the shortfall,” Norma explained.
 
She added: “This year, we decided that there’s a lot of people who were coming along as well who didn’t used to come along, and they were from the Village, so we asked the Old Parish, who were helping us with donations if they would like to open up, one-hour a week to see if anybody wanted to come along, and that has begun taking off."
  
“At first there was only one or two people, now there’s six, seven, eight, nine or ten – it just depends, every week has different numbers, and that’s exactly how we started off here, just with six or seven people and then it just grew and grew.
 
“Last year, we put out 1,750 food parcels into the community; the year before that figure was 1,400; and I fully expect it to be more this year.”
 
According to newly released statistics from the Trussell Trust, 1,084,604 people – including 396,997 children – received three days’ food from the Trust’s network of over 400 foodbanks in 2014/15, compared with 913,138 in the 2013/14 financial year, representing an increase of 19 percent.
 
The demand for services provided by foodbanks has now forced the Trussell Trust to consider opening a foodbank in Cumbernauld, with a spokesperson for the Trust confirming that a foodbank within Cumbernauld is currently “under development”. 
 
Rising demand for foodbanks has been attributed to a number of factors, including but not limited to austerity and benefit reforms. When asked about what she thinks has driven people to use foodbanks in Cumbernauld, be it welfare reforms, cuts or peoples’ individual circumstances, Mrs Cowan said she felt it was a “mixture of everything”.
 
‘Nowhere to turn’. 
 
The foodbank Administrator explained: “There’s people who work who actually come to us, because they are on very low wages, and once they pay their rent and other bills, there’s not much money left for food – and that’s the last thing that they buy. 
  
“There’s a lot of benefits cuts too; one of the major things we see is people whose benefits have been cut, and they’ve been told that they are waiting on a decision, though sometimes these decisions can take six or 12 weeks, maybe more, and they’ve got nowhere to turn, so they come here. 
 
“We work through a referral system; we have been working with the Scottish Welfare Fund this year, so we direct everybody to them, and they make a decision whether they can give those people money, or whether they refer them to the foodbanks.
 
“Sometimes, however, a decision from the Fund takes too long, and because we’re independent people can still come along to us, though if we see anybody struggling we’ll give them support, direct them to get in touch with the Scottish Welfare Fund, and suggest they tell the Fund to ‘make them do something for you’, and get them to bring back a referral. 
 
“If somebody doesn’t have a referral, we’ll go through the referral system with them and ask them why they came to us, what are they needing, and we’ll give them a bag of groceries, and point them in the direction to get a referral,” Norma added.
 
‘It’s a partnership’.
 
As the last visitor to Thursday’s foodbank left with their two bags in hand – one bad laden down with milk, bread and cereals, and the other filled with various food items, including rice and pasta, Norma described to our reporter how the foodbank is “a partnership of so many other churches and individuals.”
 
She said: “The churches have been marvellous, getting behind us and partnering with us. We don’t say that this is ‘our’ thing, because there are so many other people who are making this happen, such as Cumbernauld Against Poverty, Craighalbert Church, Auchinloch Church, Cornerstone Church, and even the chapels in Cumbernauld, which are donating food to us.
 
“Although it’s great that we’re here in Cornerstone; we’re from Cornerstone Christian Fellowship, this is where it started, and we have a lot of lovely people who work from Cornerstone that work alongside us, this project is now a partnership of so many other churches and individuals, who are making this work.”

 SOURCE: http://www.cumbernauld-media.com/news/community/1411-a-view-from-the-breadline-cumbernauld-vital-foodbanks

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