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It may be summer, but Greenwich Foodbank is in increasing need of help as the rollout of Universal Credit causes a huge jump in demand for its services. Local Democracy Reporter TOM BULL visited its Eltham base to talk to its volunteers.

If Greenwich Foodbank could close tomorrow, it would. But as demand grows, there’s little chance of that.

Despite the generosity of the public, workers are quietly concerned that resources are wearing thin.

Following the rollout of Universal Credit, paired with London’s housing problems, volunteers in Greenwich say they are set to serve more than 9,000 residents in need this year – a 20 per cent increase on last year.

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Along with his wife Esme, volunteer Alan Robinson, 70, has been involved with the food bank since 2012.

He said: “If the rate people are coming in continues this year it will be the biggest increase since 2015. This is the quietest time of year for food coming in. It’s a worrying time at the moment.

“We have never run out of food since we’ve been running, this is probably the closest we’ve got to that. It’s worrying. The last thing we want is for us not to be able to help.”

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The impact of Universal Credit has been widely attributed to a surge in the use of foodbanks. In Greenwich, the repercussions were delayed as the borough was towards the end of the roll-out.

Universal Credit was designed to make the system simpler by combining several benefits into one, but has been criticised for causing a five-week delay in payments.

That, along with a lack in social housing, has been blamed for the continued use of Greenwich Foodbank.

During the morning only a few people turn up to use the service. It’s quiet, but volunteers say there’s never any guessing how busy they can be.

One mum does come in. She has her son with her, who has just turned one. It was her first time using a food bank.

The mother-of-three’s freezer had been left open, and she was left in a position where she didn’t know where to go.

She said: “Hopefully I won’t have to use it again. But if I do then I know it’s here. It’s amazing what these people do. I don’t know where I would have been without it. I couldn’t tell you – I’d be doomed.”

More than 100 people give up their time to keep the food bank running, including a team of drivers and warehouse workers.

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Despite mountains of pasta taking up near enough an entire room, Greenwich Foodbank is in desperate need of “staples” like tinned meat and veg.

Sat in the Eltham facility, Robinson told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that the use of the charity has become “institutionalised”.

He said: “We certainly see people who are in work and on low pay. It is quite clear. It’s a worrying number of people we see. It opened my eyes to how many people in that position.

“Our ambition is to close. We don’t want to be here but we are slowly becoming institutionalised. We are part of the support service. Society is becoming dependent on us.”

Danny Thorpe, the leader of Greenwich Council, said the government must take “immediate action” on poverty.

He said: “These figures are incredibly disappointing and it is shocking that Greenwich residents are not only dependent on emergency food aid but that the number of those in need is increasing.

“As part of Greenwich’s drive to ensure school-aged children receive regular meals, a programme was launched last year to tackle hunger during school holidays and we are pleased to have been able to fund and provide nutritious meals to over 8,000 children so far at drop-in centres across the borough.

“Our borough is one of the most deprived local authorities in the country and we’re doing what we can, but central government austerity measures and increasing costs have left us with a £125million shortfall since 2010, which is having a disastrous impact.

“Central government must take immediate action before our borough slips further into poverty.”

To donate items to Greenwich Foodbank, drop them off at one of its collection points. Food banks in Lewisham and Bexley would also be grateful for your support.

Greenwich Council’s Summer Feast programme runs until the new school term starts in September.

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Tom Bull is the Local Democracy Reporter for Greenwich. The Local Democracy Reporter Service is a BBC-funded initiative to ensure councils are covered properly in local media.
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