Kevin Maguire: Inside the Newcastle food bank made famous by ‘I, Daniel Blake’

Walking into the Newcastle West End Foodbank – made famous by I, Daniel Blake, Ken Loach’s searing film about the victims of Tory austerity – a shy little old lady clutched a cheque.

Aged 80 and living locally, in a soft Scottish accent she quietly expressed regret life had been made harsher than in her salad days so she wanted to help families less fortunate than her own.

Manager John McCorry, who manages the venue Church of the Venerable Bede in the Tyneside city’s Benwell area. thanked the pensioner and coaxed out her address to send a formal letter of appreciation.

The cheque, I noticed, was for £250. She asked me not to publish her name as she was doing only what was right and deserved no public recognition.

“I was able to get a decent council house and a decent job and now I’ve got a decent pension,” she explained, “and I’ve wanted to come in here for weeks. It’s wrong what’s happening to people. They should be helped not hurt. Creating poverty is unforgivable.”

Earlier a pair of handsome brothers in trendy trainers and designer clothes, strolled into the foodbank sited in the Church of the Venerable Bede in the Tyneside city’s Benwell area.

Builders Behzad and Behnam Emami, 29 and 34, began to sweep up.

Four yeas ago they had been asylum seekers from Iran who started volunteering when banned from paid employment. They continued after the Home Office let them stay and find jobs.

“When we are free we are coming just to help,” said bashful Behzad. “To help people is good.”

Later in the city’s historic indoor Grainger Market, with its famous Marks & Spencer’s Penny Bazaar, an old man in shabby clothes also wanted to help.

I could see a handful of coins as he meekly approached a unit the Foodbank operates with Newcastle United fans to collect “Toonaid” donations from a Geordie nation doing what a Conservative Government isn’t.

“The generosity of people is astounding, absolutely heartwarming,” said Mr McCorry.

The foodbank he heads is distributing life-saving parcels from two centres, including the Church of the Venerable Bede.

A warehouse in Newburn co-ordinates distribution.

“Without our wonderful volunteers and all the people collecting and donating food and money I shudder to think what might happen to the people in real need, going hungry.

“It’s not just adults. It’s the kids too. And demand is growing. Poverty is rising. We see it, we know it.”

The Newcastle West End Foodbank is part of the Trussell Trust network and the largest in the country, assisting close to 50,000 families this year with 106 tonnes of food worth £209,000.

Hot meals are served and parcels are provided to take home. Meanwhile an integration programme tries to sort out problems with landlords, benefits, health, both physical and mental, plus treatments for addictions.

The gut-wrenching accounts of families left despairing by gaping holes ripped in the welfare state by the Tories are familiar everywhere in the country.

Slum landlords, DWP sanctions, bad bosses and Universal Credit are curses either tolerated or inflicted by smug Conservative Ministers.

People sleeping on streets or in cars and vans is increasing.

One mother was £3,500 in debt after the council charged her £30 a week bedroom tax despite her willingness to move into a smaller property the local authority couldn’t find.

On my visit to the Newcastle West End Foodbank two dishevelled young men, former soldiers now living rough, told their stories.

One explained to a volunteer he was close to giving up, feeling abandoned by the country which put him in uniform then dumped him.

“If you’re out there and going about your life and you’ve got a job it’s not always obvious people are struggling,” said Mr McCorry. “But it’s growing at such an extent that the number unaware what’s going on is shrinking.”

Christine Wood, a retired library worker proud of her MBE, plays herself in I, Daniel Blake’s Foodbank scenes.

The volunteer says: “We see good people treated terribly. Sometimes you’ve got to bite your lip when they tell you what’s happening, how they’ve no money and are really desperate.

“You could cry but you can’t afford to cry, let yourself go downhill. You couldn’t help them if you did.

“So you show empathy, try to put a smile on their faces.

“We know who is creating this misery, what the Government’s doing, and they’ll never be forgiven.”

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