Brexit roadtrip - Michael Beckett (Colchester Food Bank)


Colchester Food Bank is one of over 2,000 food banks in the UK, a number that has been rapidly rising in the past years. In 2016-17 UK food banks provided 1.2m food parcels to clients, 440,000 of which went to households with children.

Michael Beckett started as a volunteer at this location, and took the role of Chief Officer in september 2017. Michael was considering running and had even been approved as a European parliamentary candidate for the elections this year, before it turned out that Britain was not likely to partake in these elections.

What have you seen change at the food bank in the past few years?

“Well, in 2016 we had 5,700 clients, in 2017 we had 6,300 clients, in 2018 we had 7,000 clients. These are people that we provide meals for, over a third of whom are children. So I would say there’s a clear trend, and it’s going the wrong way. I would like to think that Brexit will magic everything better, give us the economic miracle and solve problems. Certainly that is what the leave campaign promised, but none of them are around now. It seems like a company that went into liquidation, and can’t be prosecuted because there’s no one left to prosecute, that made lots of promises and isn’t going to deliver on them.”

“I’m pragmatic, that’s why I run a food bank. I’m trying to make it actually work for people. I’m trying to gather the food, the money and publicity. We’ve been quite active on social media, we’ve been campaigning to prepare. One of the things I foresaw was that our food bank demand is likely to keep going up. So I have to do everything I can to make this location ready to support people.”

How have you been preparing for possible effects of Brexit?

“We’ve got building space come online, so we can have more storage. I’ve raised £46,265 to date, towards buying a warehouse for our own, because we rent this warehouse and that costs us about £20,000 a year. Hopefully we will have enough space to get us through any possible crisis that might come from a no deal Brexit. But we’re doing everything we can to make ourselves ready, because the politicians, in my opinion, have done nothing near enough, to put the country first and come up with a deal that will give certainty to our businesses, certainty to our farmers, to our workers. Because of that, we’re doing everything we can to try and give a safety net, because we will need a safety net I fear. I hope I’m wrong, but I fear I’m not.”

What do you anticipate happening in the next weeks?

“They’re going to fudge it, they’re politicians.. There are at least 650 different plans with our 650 MP’s. There is no coherent narrative, no coherent plan, and whilst all of them have things they don’t like, none of them have a unity of purpose in what they do like. Maybe mrs. May can make a deal and can twist over backwards and hold it all together. If she does she’d be an amazing contortionist. But I don’t think there will be a deal that can win enough votes. I think they will possibly delay, they might go for another referendum. But the people who will suffer most from this uncertainty are the people on the margins, the people who already using food banks.”

“I don’t know what hope looks like at this moment, but I don’t need to hold on to that too hard. What I need to do is help people now, because there are people that need help now, and I need to prepare so we can help more people in the future.”

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Maarten Kuiper