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Penryn operation is more than just a food bank

Rob said he started the service having carried out similar work when he was a member of a church in Penzance.

A woman and her young daughter had moved to the area and were living in a new home without curtains. Although they had been able to get curtains and a curtain rail, they did not know anyone who could fit them.

Rob said: “As a church, if you can’t help your community then what are you doing here? That’s what it’s supposed to be about, these are the people you’re supposed to be helping. If you don’t know what your communitys problems are then its a problem.”

The group, which is a community interest company, started with funds from the Highway Community Action Trust which is funded by charity shop Penryn Treasures, also takes in donations of furniture, which is then given out to people in need.

New addition

A new addition to the foodbank family is the Cornwall Befriending Service, another community interest company operated by former care worker Rowena Koning, which mainly provides face-to-face money and debt advice, along with job related advice. With a background in social work, Rowena also has links to a wide network and can often advise people on getting help with issues such as anxiety and stress, or other underlying mental health problems.

She gives one example: “A lady had a predicament with adopting a child practically overnight. She had problems with finances, was going to be a carer to a 14-year-old, and was worried about what the child would arrive with barely the clothes on her back.”

Rowena helped get her a carer’s allowance, as well as arranging for clothing, and of course help from the foodbank, and is keeping in contact with the pair so that she can also keep social services abreast of developments, if necessary.

She adds a new aspect is people finding it difficult to pay for funerals, with some families taking out up to four pay day loans to cover the costs of a basic burial.

But there is an answer for that too, in the form of another community interest company, the Little Cornish Funeral Company, which provides cheap reed or similar coffins, working with the hospital to keep costs down.

She said in a way she feels she is stepping into a void left by a shrinking public sector: “The Citizens Advice Bureaux were invaluable but they had cutback after cutback after cutback.

“Job centres have less computers for people. You haven’t got person to person contact.”

Sarah said she feels it is important that she has seen foodbanks from both sides. “You understand it if you used to use it, she said. “If we have come out the other side, there’s no reason they can’t.”

Laid off

Mark and Melissa Manship, parents of two young children, turned to the Cornwall Befriending Service due to a combination of Mark being laid off by a failing employer, increased living expenses, bank charges, and debt incurred at the height of the credit boom.

Melissa said: “We got into a spiral of living off the credit because all of the wages were paying back the loans and bank charges, and every time we got to an overdraft limit the bank gave us more.

Melissa, a nurse, said she tried working more hours to help with repayments, but the increased hours and stress made her ill and she could not continue like that.

They lost their home because they could not afford the upkeep and the mortgage payments, and moved into a rented house. They were evicted at around the same time Mark was made redundant, and had to register themselves homeless as they were unable to rent on Melissa’s wages alone, before being moved into emergency housing.

They were also using the foodbank at the same time.

“It meant we could put food on the table for the kids,” said Mark. “We only went three times, when it was that or not eat.”

Melissa added: “The kids had quite a few years of complete uncertainty.”

At one point, Melissa was even advised that it would be better for them if she was out of work and pregnant.

“But,” said Mark, “we pointed out that we need to work.

That’s the way we were raised andit’s for both of our sanity. For Mel, being a nurse, to give up 20 years service would be disastrous.”

They spent 18 months in emergency accommodation before being offered a house, but were still in a lot of debt.

They had tried the Citizens Advice Bureau, but said they had found it difficult to get through to speak to anyone, and had talked to debt management companies but there was no-one local for advice, before finding Rowena.

Melissa said: “We saw Rowena for debt advice but what she has done has been so much more. She’s gone through everything from emotional support to getting us to where we can liaise with these companies to try and resolve the debt situation, empowering us to stand up to them a bit.”

She has also helped with mental health support.

Mark is currently back in work, and said: “We’ve got to the point where we have licked our wounds, and are ready to start again.”

Melissa added: “It’s someone in your corner, fighting with you, for you.

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