Bow Foodbank

The following gives a more detailed look at the work we do, the context within which we work and who are clients are.

You can download our first annual report which has a detailed description of what we do and most recent annual report with up today statistics on our activity as .pdf documents.

A unique approach – direct, long term help to anyone in need


Most food banks operate a ‘referral’ system. People who need food must first apply for a voucher from a local referral agency. At Bow, we believe this puts unnecessary barriers in the way of people in need. Applying for a voucher can be stressful, and many of those most in need may not approach a referral agency. At Bow, people can come to the food bank direct themselves, and do not need vouchers.

Most food banks also limit the number of times a person may receive food. Typically, people may only visit a food bank three times in any six month period. This system seems based on the belief that people using food banks are typically facing only some kind of temporary crisis (the loss of benefits or of work, for example) and that once this crisis is resolved they will no longer need support.

Though some of those using Bow Foodbank are facing similar crises, and only visit the food bank on a few occasions, for many the struggle to feed themselves and their families is an on-going problem. At Bow we offer support over the longer term, with people able to visit us up to 10 times (every fortnight) whilst we find other ways to support them.

Almost half (46%) of those using Bow Foodbank are ineligible for help from other food banks because they need food on at least four (and often more) occasions.

Providing choice, cutting waste, and challenging stigma.


Most food banks provide ready-made food parcels containing a range of items chosen by the food bank.

At Bow, we believe it is important that people have the opportunity to choose their own food.
Whilst our system reduces waste (standard food parcels often contain items people already have at home), we believe it is also more dignified: reducing the stigma that queuing for a food parcel can engender.

Rather than pre-packaged parcels, visitors to Bow choose up to 10 free items from a range of food stuffs and other goods in our shop that we know people often struggle to afford (for example, nappies). We believe that the more familiar shopping experience makes a visit to Bow Foodbank a much less daunting experience.

More than food – a welcome, and further support.


Whatever the difficulties they may be facing, many people find it very difficult to first come to a food bank. At Bow, we try to make people feel as welcome as possible, and to make the experience of using our food bank as far removed from a feeling of ‘charity’ as possible.
The vast majority of our volunteers are local people, some of whom have used the food bank themselves, and before using the shop visitors can sit and talk with our volunteers over a cup of tea or coffee.

Reflecting the growing problems associated with welfare reforms, almost a third (27%) of our clients turn to Bow because of a problem with their benefits; either a change to their benefits (4%) a delay in payments (13%), or some kind of sanction (11%) – frequently leaving people with no income whatsoever.

Importantly, though, for the majority of people turning to Bow has less to do with some kind of unexpected, or only temporary crisis, than with the persistent and on-going difficulties of making ends meet on low incomes (57% of clients).

Paperwork is kept to a minimum, but people are encouraged to share with us why they have come to Bow.
Because we recognise that the last thing people needing help want is to be passed from pillar to post, anyone needing advice can meet one-to-one with our on-site qualified welfare advisor provided by the Bromley-by-Bow Centre.
Our advisor can offer our clients guidance on whether they are receiving the right benefits, practical help in completing forms, and advice on how recent changes to benefits may affect them.

Number of people served


In our first year, Bow Foodbank worked with 468 clients. Though many of our clients are single people, just under half have families, and including family members Bow provided food to 837 people (including 177 children).
As the food bank has established itself in the local community, demand has grown, from just 81 clients in our first month of operation, to more than 300 currently. We are now regularly providing food to between 70 and 80 clients and their families each week.
Because many of our clients visit us more than once, during our first year Bow provided clients and their families with 2,523 baskets (25,230 items) of food and other goods: at a value of more than £15,000

Our clients are extremely diverse.


Almost as many men (47%) as women (53%) make use of the food bank, and clients include both single people and those with families, as well as a large number of homeless people (31% of clients) staying either in local hostel accommodation, insecure housing, or with friends or relatives.
The majority of clients are either unemployed (52%) or registered long-term sick/disabled (34%).

Why people come to Bow Foodbank


Reflecting the growing problems associated with welfare reforms, almost a third (27%) of our clients turn to Bow because of a problem with their benefits; either a change to their benefits (4%) a delay in payments (13%), or some kind of sanction (11%) – frequently leaving people with no income what- so-ever.

Importantly, though, for the majority of people turning to Bow has less to do with some kind of unexpected, or only temporary crisis, than with the persistent and on-going difficulties of making ends meet on low incomes (57% of clients)