Heroic Ipswich teenagers rapidly expand school foodbank as demand soars

Northgate Foodbank

Alicia and Violet run the foodbank at Northgate High School - Credit: Jo Ward and Charlotte Campbell

Heroic Ipswich teenagers have rapidly expanded a school foodbank they set up during the coronavirus crisis, saying: "A lot more people are finding it harder to survive."

Alicia, whose surname we have agreed not to use, set up the foodbank at Northgate High School during the first Covid-19 lockdown last year, because: "I thought I needed to do something to help the community.

"Things were so uncertain and it was not great for anyone who was on the furlough scheme. 

Several donations have already been made to the foodbank at Northgate High School, in Ipswich. Pictu

Alicia started the foodbank during the first coronavirus lockdown - Credit: Archant

"Not everyone was coping and I thought Northgate needed to do something."

After posting on social media to plead for donations and offer support to those in need, the foodbank began by helping a handful of families.

But as the country was plunged into a second national lockdown in November, Alicia said there was a "surging" demand - with approximately 20 families receiving support at its peak.

The foodbank grew so much that Alicia recruited fellow 15-year-old Northgate student Violet to support her efforts, with Sainsbury's and other firms donating hundreds of pounds of goods.

Alicia prepares food parcels from donations to the foodbank at Northgate High School, in Ipswich. Pi

Alicia prepares food parcels at the Northgate High School foodbank - Credit: Archant

"We were taking up two rooms because we had so much food," Alicia said.

Alicia and Violet's caring efforts have impressed so many people that they have been nominated for the Suffolk HOPE Awards, a scheme run by Suffolk police with Suffolk County Council and others to celebrate the contribution of young people.

Alicia with donations to the foodbank at Northgate High School, in Ipswich. Picture: NORTHGATE HIGH

Hundreds of pounds of food have been donated to the Northgate High School foodbank - Credit: Archant

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Alicia said she "couldn't be prouder" of the efforts Northgate has made, saying: "Collectively, with the support of some staff, we have been able to establish something that people can turn to as some reassurance during these times of difficulty.

"The awe that I feel when I realise the impact of the foodbank is overwhelming."

However, she said it was sad to see people facing growing financial hardship during the crisis.

Alicia with donations to the foodbank at Northgate High School, in Ipswich. Picture: NORTHGATE HIGH

Demand for Northgate High School's foodbank ramped up in the winter - Credit: Archant

"It was upsetting to see how many people actually needed our help," Alicia said.

"A lot more people were losing their jobs and finding it harder to survive.

"People are still in need now. If you've been in need for so long, you're not just going to stop being in need all of a sudden."

The foodbank at Northgate High School, in Ipswich, has been set up in the wake of the coronavirus cr

Alicia said she was proud of her efforts with the foodbank - but said seeing people facing such hardship was 'upsetting' - Credit: Archant

Other foodbanks across the county saw similar spikes in demand, with the number of families relying on emergency food parcels shooting up by over 700% in some areas.

Maureen Reynel, founder of Families in Need (FIND) - where Alicia also volunteered during the summer holidays - said: "I have distributed over 8,000 food parcels in Ipswich since last year. It is just crazy.

"I can see it getting worse and it will be a long time before it gets better."

Other Ipswich schools have also set up similar schemes, with Copleston High School and the Raedwald Trust joining forces to give emergency food to families through its community shelf scheme.

Northgate High School headteacher Rowena Mackie praised Alicia's "initiative, hard work and determination" and said she had "recognised we could make a positive impact on our community".

People can request help from Northgate's foodbank by emailing the Sidegate Lane school at info@northgate.suffolk.sch.uk

Nominations for the HOPE Awards are open until Friday, May 7.

People are urged to nominate any young person aged between 11 and 18 who has gone above and beyond during the difficulties of the past year, as well as shown resilience, determination and teamworking. 

Insp Becky Kidd-Stanton, from Suffolk Constabulary, said: “The impact of individual acts of kindness, demonstrating respect for others and working as part of a team, should not be under estimated.

“Alongside academic progress, it is important to recognise these skills and attributes that young people often have in abundance."

To nominate a young person, fill in an application form here.