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Documentary Photography Review | 18th July 2017

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Food Bank Britain

Foodbank Britain by photographer Hannah Mornement
Hannah Mornement

Over 350,000 people received three days’ emergency food from Trussell Trust foodbanks between April and September 2013, triple the numbers helped in the same period last year. The Trussell Trust says that UK food poverty is getting worse and the charity is calling for an inquiry into its causes and the consequent surge in foodbank usage.

My project ‘Food Bank Britain’ takes a look inside the third largest Trussell Trust foodbank in the UK. With testimonials from some of the volunteers and an interview from the Trussell Trusts network director, I aim to explain how the system works and what the future holds for foodbanks in this country.

It also explores the lives of three of its beneficiaries. John, Denise and Gavin. They are an illustration of the growing number of individuals and families who are now relying on foodbanks. Britain’s hidden hunger is difficult to spot and often hard to understand. Difficult to spot due to the ‘visual’ of poverty in this country, and hard to understand because we have a welfare state which is supposed to support those on the margins of society.

John

I was born in Northern Rhodesia, which is now Zambia, in 1960, and moved to England when I was 5 years old.  I had an upbringing in Birmingham by a very strict father who drank a lot of whisky and was very aggressive. Quite a few memories of him whacking me and stamping on my feet -– not a nice man.  Then, when I was 19, I got married, rather prematurely.   Stupid, shot gun wedding.  That was to Jane, but I have a lovely daughter from that.  She is 33 now, she is lovely. I haven’t had much contact with her recently because of all the things that have been going on.  We were divorced in 1984, various little relationships that amounted to nothing and then I met Melanie in 1992 and I was with her for just under 10 years.  After 5 or 6 years we got married and we had Harry, my little boy, who is now 14 – lovely little lad.   And then Melanie left me in 2002 and I had a breakdown, rather a serious breakdown.  Tried to kill myself, took various pills and ended up in a psychiatric hospital for 6 weeks sectioned for 5 ‘cos they thought I was a danger to myself.  I don’t think I was, I think it was more a cry for help.  Then I came out of the hospital and went back to work and my Mum and Dad both died shortly afterward.  So then I had another breakdown as I was very traumatised by it, by both of them dying.  Even though my Dad was a pain in the bum I still loved him, as you do.  But when mum died it did affect me as I was really close to her.

Again another couple of relationships but nothing to write home about, and then I met Hilda last August, sorry last July. We had a whirlwind romance in England for 3 weeks and she went back to Germany and we kept in contact . Phone calls every night for 3 or 4 hours for about a month, which was wonderful, I thought it was the real deal. I thought this is it.  Lovely woman, and then she came back to England after a month and stayed another 2 weeks and she said ‘why don’t you come back to Germany’.  I thought I had nothing to lose.  So I went to Germany and had a wonderful time for the first 6 months.  I loved Germany, I got a job straight away, even tried to speak the language.

But after 6 months I was working long hours and she had a house full of kids she was fostering, and our relationship began to break down.  I came back to Eastbourne and went to the doctors and told them I had depression, and he wanted to sign me off work.  So I signed on ESA (Employment Support Allowance) and got one payment from them, and then I wrote them a letter which I shouldn’t have written, saying I was capable of looking for, and I wanted to look for, work, which I do. It’s hard finding a job but now I am signing on, but they stopped my ESA, straight away, on the 9th August so I had to sign on for JSA, and I had to wait 9 weeks for the money to come through.

I used to be very self-sufficient.  Now I use the foodbank once a week.  I have been about five times now.  I have just moved into my new flat, the bills are horrendous.  I just get my £140 every two weeks and I have to pay my own bills and my food.  And it just doesn’t go anywhere.  What ever is left, pennies, I buy a bit of food, bread, butter, because they don’t do that at the foodbank.  You know, little essentials that you need.  I miss good food really. I hate cheap coffee, I like good coffee from coffee beans, the coffee ‘she’ would make was lovely and she would always have mild coffee so I’d have the espresso, double espresso, I like strong coffee, if it’s too weak its just putrid.

As you know I am looking for work, I’ve put down gardening, delivery driving, and catering, I’d rather do catering out of all of those, but really anything would do.

Denise

I have been in Eastbourne forever. If I could live anywhere it would be East Hoithly. A tiny little village – you blink and you’d go straight through it, it’s so small and beautiful. I had family who lived there when I was growing up, and he grew up there, my other half grew up there. We like it. We could never live there though, it’s about 2k a month rent for a one bed cottage. That’s a lot of money. I have been in this area all my life, but this house since April 2008. It’s the longest I’ve stayed anywhere for a long time.

I did graphic design at college, but in the second year, about halfway through, I found out I had a very, very poorly baby; got pregnant obviously. My eldest was really poorly. She was born with gastroschisis. It means all of her bowel was on the outside and her stomach didn’t form properly. So all her intestine and bowel were on the outside. Obviously that meant a lot of doctor’s appointments; a lot of hospital appointments. I couldn’t really carry on with college. Also my college weren’t exactly pregnancy friendly. The woman who ran that course wasn’t the most friendly of women I have met. I was told “I don’t think you are very appropriate for this course anymore do you, young lady?”

My husband was in the army before I met him, but now he’s an agency labourer. But he’s home so that shows how well that goes. We went to the foodbank because he hadn’t been paid properly and they kept forgetting to pay him.

They were delaying it for 4 or 5 days – he was supposed to be paid on the Friday but we weren’t getting it till Tuesday or Wednesday. Would have been quicker if the weekend hadn’t been in the middle of that. They were just messing him around. It was the Tuesday we came down to the foodbank. Funnily enough he got paid the next day, after a phone call saying: “do you realise we have just been to the foodbank because you are delaying us?”

I couldn’t believe what the foodbank gave us. I thought it was so generous how much there was. I was not expecting, no that’s the wrong word – I thought there would be a couple of bags, not as much as that. We haven’t used everything yet, we have still got loads of it left. Mostly the tinned vegetables.

I’d rather give them quite a lot of food back first, and then use it again, if we had to.

After my husband worked for the CSCS agency for little over a month, the work stopped coming in. They were only offering him a day or two, but promising more. We would get a call telling us that they had a couple of months on a site and then call back with the location details, but then change the amount of time to far less. We tried our hardest to make this work and used the little money we had been able to save, but that ran out very quickly.

I didn’t want to go back to the jobcentre because the media makes you believe they won’t believe you and will let you struggle on a pittance. But as soon as they saw even a part of my finance working out they told us to put a rapid reclaim in as quickly as possible, and to their credit it was all sorted in a couple of hours. It really isn’t right to feel this way but it is far easier on benefits. We know when and how much is coming in. We are eating better and living better. We both still desperately want to work and I’m in the process of trying to start a craft-selling business, hoping to start selling my work after Christmas. It’s obviously not going to bring enough in to run a house but at least it’s one step closer. The jobcentre has been nothing but helpful and have promised not to send my husband to any more agencies.

We have explained to our daughter what the foodbank is and how it’s helping people. Now every time we go to the supermarket she insists on putting at least something in.

Gavin

The people around here are all dangerous. This is the guy who slit his girlfriend’s throat. She stabbed him through the stomach and the knife went out the other side through his back and he was in a coma for like a week and a half. So they both tried to kill each other, but they are still together. He tried to kill someone with a baseball bat and I got in the way and I got hit in the arse. It’s a different world. It’s not the world I want to be part of, but living round here they seem to put people with mental health issues and ex-criminals – there’s loads of them, seriously, and they all seem to be chucked in Peacehaven. So I know I just want to go and live in Lewes. Not because my son is there, necessarily. I know that’s quite a big reason. It’s just the fact that it’s relaxed and you can walk down the street and not worry about being hit on the head with whatever on any particular day. I just want to be in a place that’s relaxed, a safe environment really. It sounds very nice, haven and the peace bit yeah, but no, it’s not good.

That’s why I am out all the time visiting friends in Brighton or in Eastbourne, then I come back when it gets dark, have a little snack, read a book and then go to bed. Seriously I woke up at 1 o’clock last night and went to the window and the number of lights on in people’s houses. So what they are doing – staying up really late and sleeping in, so that activity starts in the afternoon. Then you start to see people.

I don’t feel ashamed, I just feel at the moment it’s a necessity – if I want to keep being healthy and doing what I am doing, I obviously need to use those services now. But, obviously, if I had a full-time job I wouldn’t be using them. There is no way I’d be working and using those services.

I wasn’t in a good place when we first met. Well all the talking helps. Short term is not to be drinking, going to the gym at least 4 times a week doing a lot of reading, getting a car, working full-time, so my sons can be proud of me. I don’t want: “Oh what does your dad do?” “Oh he’s on benefits.” You can’t really be proud of a father who does that. So I want my children to be proud of me. It’s like a high priority.

Listen to this Documentary Photography Review podcast interview with Hannah to find out more about her experiences as a photographer and her Foodbank Britain project – An Interview with Hannah Mornement