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Foodbank Histories


Foodbank Histories

Exploring the interconnected life stories behind one of the UK's busiest foodbanks.

The project originated with the Newcastle United Fans Foodbank, a group of football fans supporting the work of the West End Foodbank. They made the first approach to Silvie Fish of Northern Cultural Projects (NCP) with the idea behind the project. Silvie is also a member of the Newcastle University Oral History Collective, and this led to the formal three-way partnership:

Foodbank Histories: The stories of foodbank users, volunteers and activists. Two women talking.

Oral History Unit and Collective

Launched in January 2018, the Oral History Unit and Collective aims to:

  • produce globally significant research
  • attend to regional and civic responsibilities

Alison Atkinson-Phillips is the lead researcher on the Foodbank Histories project. She has experience in social justice campaigns with community groups, and was eager to join the project.

Listening to users and volunteers

“People who are economically marginalised are often spoken about, rather than spoken to or listened to,” said Alison. “In this project, we have interviewed foodbank users, volunteers and activists. It’s important to know that people don’t just fit into one of those categories.

“We’ve asked people about their life histories and what led them to their involvement with the foodbank. But we aren’t just collecting stories – we are also asking what they would want to change.

“This is an important social justice principle at the heart of oral history research. Our knowledge is co-produced through the act of conversation. We are not the experts coming in to either mine people for information or to fix things, but we reflect people’s words back to them.”

Newcastle West End Foodbank: Volunteers at the Venerable Bede Church.

The team of interviewers includes PhD researcher Jack Hepworth, who wrote the report on the findings. The team adopted an open and consultative methodology, which included:

  • posting summarised interviews on the West End Foodbank’s Facebook page under the heading of ‘Foodbank Histories’
  • inviting written feedback from participants through a display at the two centres in Benwell and the Venerable Bede

Being Human: an exhibition

One of the first outputs was an exhibition as part of the Being Human Festival in November 2018. The NU Fans collection point at the Grainger Market hosted the exhibition, which confronted Newcastle’s growing foodie community with the reality of food insecurity.


Currently, the project has no external funding, and is being run on a shoestring budget. The Foodbank Histories team hope to secure funding to develop the project in ways that will benefit the foodbank and the people who depend on it.

“The first step of this project has been to feed these histories back to participants, to empower foodbank users, volunteers and supporters. That is already happening,” said Alison.

In the future, we hope our research can better inform decisions makers about foodbank users’ circumstances and needs, and lead to improved food security policy and service provision.