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The People’s Pantry: Govanhill foodbank aims to foster community spirit with membership scheme

(l-r) Hannah Mackintosh, Fatima Uygyn and Alexandra Krausse
(l-r) Hannah Mackintosh, Fatima Uygyn and Alexandra Krausse

A pioneering foodbank in Scotland’s biggest city is blazing a trail for others across the country.

The innovative People’s Pantry’s membership scheme, focused on fresh food and a community-based ethos, is inspiring others around Scotland.

The pantry opened earlier than planned in Glasgow’s southside because of the surging demand for affordable food caused by the economic impact of Covid.

Since opening in September, the foodbank in Govanhill has welcomed more than 200 new members and expects to reach 300 early next year. Open five days a week, the team provide residents from the city’s G41 and G42 postcodes with fresh food at a fraction of the normal price.

The pantry was launched by the Govanhill Baths Community Trust with the aim of easing food poverty in the multicultural neighbourhood. The project offers an annual membership for £3.50, allowing customers to buy £15 worth of food for just £2.50.

Fatima Uygun, manager of the trust, believes the project is at the forefront of a wider movement towards fresh produce and a community spirit.

She said: “We’re now offering a little consultancy service to show other communities how to set up a pantry. It’s been hard work but the outcome has been tremendous.

“Usually when you go to a foodbank you get tinned food, it’s all processed. People are keen to get fresh produce rather than just tins of beans. We were conscious that this foodbank was going to be reflective of the diets of the people who live in the community. Regardless of who they are they can find food that they actually want to eat.

“Becoming a member means people also have some sort of ownership over the project, unlike a foodbank where people are passive recipients. That’s not the relationship we wanted with our community.”

The People’s Pantry

Recent figures reported by the Independent Food Aid Network revealed the number of people supported by independent foodbanks in Scotland rose from 12,614 in March to 19,613 in April following the nationwide lockdown, more than double the number a year ago.

With foodbanks under more pressure than ever, similar projects have been cropping up around Glasgow including The Pantry, with branches in Glasgow’s Parkhead and Shettleston. Although the Peoples’ Pantry aims to tackle food insecurity, it also encourages its members to take part in activities offered by the Baths Trust.

“We want this to be about food in a holistic way,” Fatima said, “but also about wellbeing in our community.

“Once people are fed we introduce them to things like gardening projects and yoga. Once people gain food security it can really transform their lives.”

The pantry, which is situated on Calder Street in the heart of Govanhill, is a symbol of community spirit at a time when it is needed most. Involvement is encouraged from everyone in the community, from local businesses to schools.

Hannah Mackintosh, manager of the Peoples’ Pantry, said: “We see a huge range of people in the pantry. It’s for absolutely everyone of all different ages and backgrounds, just like Govanhill itself.”

On Friday the pantry will be hosting its first Hot Food Friday with the Govanhill Youth Club. Hannah said: “The young people are going to be giving out lots of food after the pantry is closed from 3pm until 5pm.

“It’s a really great thing for the young people to do because they’re learning cooking skills using surplus produce from the shop, then getting to give it out to the community which is really nice.”

The Peoples’ Pantry hopes to relocate to a larger, permanent space in the Govanhill Baths building following its restoration. It is hoped the building can reopen in spring 2022, the 21st anniversary of the initial protests against the city council’s decision to close the baths.