Bank

Is it Britain’s fanciest food bank?

Boxes of chocolate and sea salt biscuits line the shelves at Basics Bank in the New Forest, between banana breads and jars of Waitrose marmalade. In one corner, crates of pomegranates and fresh asparagus.

It is Monday morning that I visit the operation in Hampshire, which is in an unremarkable gray building at the back of a car park.

But it’s immediately obvious that this is not your typical food bank.

Generous: premium crackers and biscuits at Basics Bank in the New Forest where visitors are referred to as ‘customers’

Volunteers type on iPads when coordinating deliveries, while visitors are referred to as “customers.”

Although food bank staples such as baked beans and cornflakes are also present, most products are more extravagant.

Last week, for example, families were treated to platters of crusted salmon. This week’s offer is pasta with mushrooms and leeks in a Dijon mustard cheese sauce, homemade and ready to reheat.

“We are very lucky in this area,” says Oli Stanley, the 63-year-old food bank president. “There are a lot of rich people who give very generously.”

It’s surprising that Lymington, a leafy Georgian market town popular as a retirement location for wealthy Londoners, needs a food bank.

The area is known for its mansions and sprawling country estates, with the average home worth £547,924, according to property website Rightmove.

Yet in February consumer charity Citizens Advice Hampshire put the county on ‘red alert’ warning that more people than ever were seeking its support.

It’s proof that even the wealthiest communities are struggling to keep up with the soaring cost of living.

This week, the Daily Mail revealed that 3.7 million elderly and vulnerable people are at “high risk” of being pushed into fuel poverty. Faced with rising bills, households are increasingly forced to rely on the generosity of their neighbours.

Figures from Citizens Advice show that food bank use has more than doubled in the last three years.

The growing demand at Basics Bank shows how even the most affluent communities are struggling to cope with the cost of living crisis.

The growing demand at Basics Bank shows how even the most affluent communities are struggling to cope with the cost of living crisis.

Mr Stanley tells me Basics Bank spends £4,000 a week on supplies and feeds between 95 and 115 families each month.

The Bank is financed largely by donations. A donor who wished to remain anonymous recently donated a fully refrigerated van to the Bank.

Mr Stanley said: ‘I am public school educated and very privileged and I have never hidden it. With this privilege comes the responsibility to care for those who are not. Many people here feel the same.

One volunteer is Doug Knight, who ran a business employing over 300 people. Now he delivers parcels. Another, a retired chef, cooks up batches of home-cooked meals.

The food bank is open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday to Friday. Walk-ins are welcome, but the team also sends food directly to households, and staff work with national charity FareShare to run community food pantry facilities at four sites.

Many “clients” are well-dressed and discreet parents. Volunteers say some are Ukrainian refugee families and there has been an increase in the number of retirees.

I’m talking to a 46-year-old father who previously worked in marketing overseas. After getting divorced, he moved back to England with his two children, aged 10 and 12, and is struggling to adjust. His children were placed in a school miles from their temporary accommodation, so he spent most of his day chauffeuring them.

He says: “All my money was swallowed up in fuel bills. We were in dire straits when someone from my children’s school referred us to the Bank. It was a lifesaver.

But how long can this generosity last? Food banks are warning they are at breaking point, due to high demand and a record drop in donations.

The Independent Food Aid Network said its banks were “collapsed”, while the Trussell Trust, which runs more than 1,300 food banks, says shelves are empty at many of its sites.

This is not a major concern for Mr. Stanley at present. But he’s adamant that food banks are just a band-aid for people’s problems.

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