How Stockport Local Pantry is supporting care leavers

By Lauren Slaney (@slaney_1)

The ‘Stockport Local Pantry Community Hub‘ is a pilot scheme run by Stockport Homes in partnership with our New Belongings Programme. It links care leavers to community hubs in order to help them feel settled in their neighbourhoods and financially and practically supported.

As part of our #NBinFocus campaign, Lauren Slaney, one of Coram Voice’s Care Experienced Consultants looked into how this initiative is supporting care leavers.

Have you heard of Your Local Pantry?

A month ago I hadn’t, but I wish I had, and I hope so many others will hear about them.

Helping care-leavers and families with low income, Your Local Pantry is a food co-operative. Not a food bank or a charity handout.

When I first heard it wasn’t a charity, I admit, I thought “yeah right –how can you be given food and not call it a handout?” But let me explain. Trust me, as a care leaver I’m aware and super sensitive to the stigma we experience on a weekly basis.

Firstly, unlike a food bank, when you walk into Your Local Pantry, it’s like stepping into a small supermarket. Think Tesco Express. There’s a huge range of choice, from single ingredients to ready-made meals to fish to pasta. Care leavers have a choice in what food items they pick, rather than be handed a bag. They can pick up to ten items and are given free fruit and vegetables on top of that.

Secondly, a referral is not needed to access Your Local Pantry. They can simply show up either by themselves or with their Personal Advisor or a friend and take what food they would like.

Thirdly, and in my opinion, most importantly, the food IS paid for. It’s not free.

I am fortunate that I have never had to use a food bank for food. However, when I first left foster care aged seventeen, I had to use a ‘furniture bank.’ I couldn’t afford basic furniture such as a table or a sofa, so I was referred to a warehouse where I was allowed to pick up to five items. The problem was, I didn’t really like any of the items. A lot were clearly used, worn and shabby. I chose a ripped sofa and a scraped table because I was desperate and felt like I couldn’t be choosy.

However, knowing that the food the care leaver receives has been paid for and is good quality should help end any stigma.

A big difference between being in care and leaving care is contact with professionals. In my experience, once you become a care leaver (especially one over the age of 21) contact becomes less frequent. Your PA may only contact you if you contact them first. The volunteers at the local pantry are trained and able to offer nutritional advice, as well as signpost post care-leavers to other services, such as organisations that provide mental health advice, money management or advice on what entitlements they’re entitled to, so having extra people around who can provide crucial information is important.

They are also brilliant in identifying people’s needs.

I spoke to KG, a Personal Advisor within Stockport’s Leaving Care Team, who recalled a young adult who initially was anxious about visiting the local food bank but ended up having a fantastic experience. “The staff picked up on the young adult’s anxiety straight away,” she said. “They treated him with respect and showed empathy. They explained clearly how Your Local Pantry worked and helped him pick his items. He is still using the pantry to this day.”

Many of the volunteers wh o work at the pantry, also use the service themselves, which only adds to the sense of community. There is no embarrassment here. They have paid for their food. If there was the chance to reduce your gas or electricity bill you would take it and food should be no different.

It’s a human right and a basic need. No one deserves to go hungry.

As helpful as food banks can be, they are a short-term relief. Your Local Pantry provides more than just food, it provides a community. Elena agrees. She is a community food officer for Your Local Pantry and says it is one of her favourite things about the pantry and part of its success. “Seeing the community come together is wholesome. There is no judgement.”