'Sometimes I cry': Ipswich foodbank founder on pain of seeing town's poverty amid toughest ever summer
PUBLISHED: 06:03 05 August 2019 | UPDATED: 11:07 05 August 2019
Determined Maureen Reynel, founder of Ipswich charity Families In Need (FIND), says: "I'm not going to lie down and let the government sort it out - because they won't."
When she meets struggling families at the end of their tether, unable to feed or clothe themselves without help, Maureen Reynel sometimes cannot help but cry.
As founder of Families In Need (FIND), she has seen it all over nearly three decades of providing help to Ipswich's most deprived, including through the charity's ever-expanding foodbank.
She and the team she works with - all volunteers - have helped the homeless, elderly, children and single-parent families survive with personal support and donations of food, bedding, cookers and vital household items.
Yet despite all her sterling work, for which she has been made an MBE, the charity is heading into what it expects to be its most difficult summer yet.
Up until early July, FIND's foodbank already had to provide 3,000 emergency food parcels in 2019 for families who would otherwise starve - 600 more than the same period last year and a rise of 25%.
FIND has become so busy that it is fundraising for a brand new headquarters in Brazier's Wood Road. The remodelling of former sports changing rooms adjacent to Gainsborough Sports Centre will cost £360,000.
Despite helping people through a number of recessions, Mrs Reynel believes the amount of people she sees struggling today is as bad as anything she has ever experienced in her long career - and probably worse.
"People are really, really struggling for all sorts of reasons," she said.
"Every year, poverty and destitution has gone up year on year."
In a worrying trend, the people needing help are not just those out of work but those in jobs who cannot make ends meet because they are "paid pennies", Mrs Reynel said.
Why is foodbank use rising?
The universal credit system brought in by the coalition government - designed to simplify a number of benefits into a single, straightforward payment - has added to many people's woes, she added.
Many have faced sanctions for missing JobCentre appointments or have needed to rely on foodbank parcels while waiting for delayed payments.
"These people can't handle it and they get into debt," she said.
"Universal credit doesn't amount to as much for people as it did before. It is really tough for them.
"It's a challenge. Sometimes I cry in private. Sometimes I cry with the people I go to visit. But I don't feel I've got to give up because I can't keep going any more.
"If I think something is not right, I'm not going to lie down and let the government sort it out - because they won't.
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"We can't leave people stranded. We've got to go alongside them for as long as it takes."
Long, tough summer ahead
Mrs Reynel is now braced for another increase in demand during the summer holiday season, when families have children at home for six weeks.
She said referrals for help "do go up during the summer", adding: "There will be an awful lot of people who still need help.
"People are phoning and asking: 'Where do you go for help?' The majority just want a roof over their head and to get through one week.
"There's a wider problem. Until we get the powers that be together, it will continue."
Annie Porter, a FIND trustee and company secretary, said: "I think people's needs have gone up generally over the last year.
"It's partly because of universal credit but I don't think that's the only issue.
"I think people generally find things are getting a bit tighter. It's an eye-opener to come across so many people who are struggling.
"There are all sorts of reasons why people get into problems.
"It's not just being unemployed - you get health issues and all sorts of reasons why someone might not be in a job. People are sometimes reluctant to admit their problems.
"The day we don't have to exist will be the best day - but I don't know what the answers are. I don't think there's a simple answer."
FIND volunteer Jacquie Smith said many of those forced to ask for help "feel like they've let everyone down" - but said: "I sit them down and let them know everyone needs some help.
"I think it's very sad that we're getting to a stage where this is happening so much.
"Everyone seems to be isolated and haven't got much time to help other people - maybe because they're struggling themselves."
FIND's current base in Felixstowe Road is not large enough to cope with its workload, she said, with volunteers often having to pack food parcels outside because of a lack of space.
As a result a new base in Brazier's Wood Road, adjacent to Gainsborough Sports Centre, is being built.
It will give FIND a headquarters from which to run its foodbank and provide other items such as white goods, beds and school uniforms for struggling families.
However remodelling the former sports changing rooms will cost £360,000.
It has already raised a significant amount of money but has launched the FIND 50 appeal to encourage schools, companies and other organisations to each raise £2,000.
Mrs Reynel said earlier this year: "It's fantastic to see the first beginnings of our new home and we can't wait to move in and help families, children and individuals who find themselves in poverty and crisis in the Ipswich area."