New Church favours Community Meals over Food Banks

A newly opened Glasgow church has suspended its emergency foodbank in favour of providing regular community meals with the aid of a Scottish Government grant worth almost £30,000.

Castlemilk ribbon cutting
Rev Sarah Brown and the congregation held a cutting the ribbon ceremony to celebrate the opening of Castlemilk's new church

The new Church of Scotland church in Castlemilk opened its doors this weekend for a special service attended by more than 400 people drawn from throughout the local community who were joined by wellwishers from as far away as Stornoway and St Andrews. The service was captured on camera in a record of the day .

Rev Sarah Brown says the new programme of community meals the church will be providing is central to its future mission as a resource for the community in Castlemilk.

“We were providing an emergency foodbank for essential overnight supplies at our old church, but we’ve suspended that because we feel we are better equipped to help people build relationships in the community than deliver emergency food aid. We also want to restore people’s dignity and see them leaving full after a good meal. Thanks to the Scottish Government grant we can give the community meals the best chance to succeed over the next 18 months. We will keep working with the other foodbanks in the area to make sure people who need their help still know where to get it. We haven't ruled out providing food aid in the future if there is a gap in provision which we believe are able to cater for. ”

Queuing up at the cafe
The new church has a state of the art cafe which it hopes will cater to up to 100 people at regular community meals

Community meals planned

The church held its first community meal last Friday night. Around 35 people were treated to soup, pizza and pavlova prepared by members of the congregation in the building’s new kitchen, as well as enjoying live music while they were eating. Ms Brown says the meals will now be a regular fixture. “We’re going to hold them on the first and third Fridays each month. We hope to make them weekly, and if they’re successful maybe more than that. Thanks to the grant we have the equipment, crockery and supplies to cater for up to 100 people at each sitting. The meals are for everyone in the community to attend, and we hope people will get behind them.”

The community meals are modelled on the Table Grace Café movement which Sarah says has already been successful in the United States. Diners are asked to donate what they can afford, be that a little, a lot, or just help with clearing up afterwards. “I really believe in giving people a hand up. Most of the supplies from foodbanks are tinned goods and I know if you’re struggling to afford to buy food, then heating it up is also an issue. We’re working in partnership with foodbanks in the area. I think the meals will grow through word of mouth because it takes a personal connection to bring people along rather than posters or leaflets.”

Castlemilk congregation
The opening of the new church marks 10 years of work by the congregation and a new beginning for the church and the community.

Congregation worked on plan for 10 years

The official opening of the Castlemilk church has been the culmination of almost five years hard work by the minister, and even longer for her dedicated congregation who joined together from the former Castlemilk East and West churches ten years ago. Sarah says “The congregation have been brilliant and they’ve really taken ownership of the process, working with the architects and builders. They’ve even made some of the fixtures using reclaimed wood from the old churches through the community carpenters workshop we set up.”

“This has been a real affirmation of confidence in Castlemilk, where we used to have two wee churches who were struggling. It is thanks to the belief and commitment of the national church, the General Trustees and the Presbytery of Glasgow we now have this new church. It has been an empowering time for the congregation. Through Chance to Thrive it helped us own the process and not feel like it was being done to us. It’s strengthened relationships with our internal church partners which are now on a really positive footing.”

“The proudest part of our opening day for me was handing the keys over to 12 year old Kevin Robertson, who’s in first year at Castlemilk High School. He represents the community, and it’s the community which will make this church a success in the future.”

The Scottish Government has announced twenty-one projects to tackle food poverty are benefitting from over £900,000 through the new Fair Food Transformation Fund. It seeks to reduce reliance on emergency food aid, by establishing more sustainable approaches to ensuring families can access healthy, nutritious food.

St Paul’s Youth Forum in Blackhill, Glasgow, which has received £46,000 for its ‘Beyond Foodbank’ initiative, which is aiming to move away from emergency food provision.

It runs weekly gardening workshops for young people, and community meals where local people can learn how to make an affordable healthy meal from locally grown produce.

Neil Young, Youth Team Leader from St Paul’s Youth Forum, said:

“We’re delighted to receive funding from the Scottish Government’s Fair Food Transformation Fund. This will enable us to help people in food poverty in Blackhill/Provanmill to move beyond the shame and embarrassment that comes with being dependent on Foodbanks and instead be assets in their community, contributing alongside others as equals.

“From its conception, this project has been community led, and people are taking pride in seeing what they can produce from cucumbers, to pizza, eggs and honey. The project will endeavour to ensure that no one goes hungry, and the power is shifted from being dependent on others to helping each other to find a community solution to an on-going problem.”

Our Church and Society Council secretary Rev Dr Martin Johnstone, welcomed the funding announcement. Dr Johnstone recently chaired the Independent Working Group on Food Poverty which made a series of recommendations to Scottish Government which ranged from tackling the problems leading to food insecurity to securing funding for community food hubs. He said "The criteria for the Transformation fund, moving towards a more dignified provision of emergency food provision, was just one of the recommendations from the Working Group and it is good to see some churches are already operating in this way."

However, not everyone is pleased with the current funding arrangements. Ian McGregor, who volunteers at Glasgow South West foodbank, is one of those commenting on our Facebook page about the difficulties some foodbanks face when they need to obtain funding for support staff.

"My concern is that some foodbanks are in danger of closing because neither the Scottish Government nor insitutional charities "like" emergency food provision and doors are constantly closing. The support of the Church of Scotland through local congregations in terms of volunteers and use of buildings is massive and very many foodbanks simply could not function without it. However, given the size and complexity of the challenge it is almost impossible for foodbanks to operate solely on volunteers. That includes ministers finding time in their already overcrowded diaries to commit to it. Some staffing is essential, which is where the need for funding comes in."

Would you like to share your experience of running or volunteering in a food aid project, or being in need of food aid? We'd like to hear from you so we can follow up this important issue.