When Alan Thoroughgood realised the impending impact of the coronavirus crisis, he and a friend set up a food bank for local residents. Deepa Lalwani finds out how he did it.
How did you decide to set up the foodbank?
On Monday 16th March, myself and a friend got talking about what was going on. I work as a street cleaning manager and co-own a chauffeur company, and our diaries were clearing up. We were both thinking about what we were going to do next. Previously, I had done a big collection after Grenfell for those in need, and we thought our team might be able to help again.
We knew that everyone was panic-buying so we started asking around – myself, my business partner Bobby, and another friend of mine, Jamie, who owns two local companies. We decided we were going to set up a foodbank, and asked anyone who had been panic-buying to drop off donations. Our friend Jimmy at the Hammersmith Club said we could use the space. We sat there for about five hours and six bags of pasta came through the door, and that was it. We knew that wasn’t going to work, so we looked for financial donations through social media pages. At the end of the first week we’d raised about £1,500, now it’s about £15,000.
It’s really inspiring to hear about a small group of volunteers setting this up. Have you had support from the local council?
The local council came in about two weeks after we started. Councillor Ben Coleman has been brilliant helping us – we’re not a charity as I said, we’re just friends that clubbed together, and he’s managed to get us grants and put us in touch with people who have donated thousands of pounds.
We have a different set up to the council. None of our food is donated now, it’s all bought fresh from wholesalers to stop cross-contamination. Every week people can choose about 15 items that they want, rather than us turning up with a random bag of stuff they don’t eat, so it won’t go to waste. Everything that we deliver will be eaten, because it’s stuff that people have actually asked for.
Your service focuses on delivering to people that are unable to leave their homes – have people been approaching you for this?
At first, we were just delivering to friends and family, but then demand started growing so we set up a Facebook page. In the space of three weeks we had about 1,200 Likes. We’ve gone through all the local community groups, but people all around the world have been contacting us, still staying in touch with the community. We’ve had people messaging us saying ‘I live in Australia, my parents are in Fulham but they’re isolating – would you be able to get a bag to them?’.
Another lady had rung her doctor’s surgery crying, unable to get a supermarket delivery for two weeks, and she had no family in the UK. We’ve been looking after her for about three weeks now.
It’s great that people like yourself are stepping up to help where you can, especially now supermarkets are under such immense pressure. A lot of people in the community feel a bit stuck at home and want to help – how can they donate or support your cause?
We have our Facebook page, so if people want to get involved, whether they know of a shop that could help with donations, or they want to come out and help with deliveries, they can contact us there. We’re currently only able to make deliveries on Mondays and Thursdays as we source the food ourselves so have to go out and shop on other days.
We understand that a lot of people don’t want to risk leaving the house right now, so just raising awareness is a big help. In some ways, sharing the page is more important than donating, but we do have a GoFundMe page where you can donate directly – if it’s £5 or £10, it helps us massively.