Job title: North Lakes Foodbank Project Manager

Employer: North Lakes Foodbank

Age: The wrong side of 50!

Where are you from? I come from a little village in the Cotswolds near Swindon in Wiltshire. I went to university in London to study civil engineering before moving to Manchester where my children were born (someone has to support Man Utd!). I moved with my family to Cumbria over 20 years ago.

Where do you live now? In Blencogo, a small village outside Wigton – it’s very quiet, relaxed and friendly. Moving here from a city where you didn’t know your neighbours four doors away was a breath of fresh air (literally).

Where do you work? My office is now in the back of Lorton Street Methodist Church, Cockermouth. There are six foodbank centres in Wigton, Maryport, Cockermouth, Workington, Whitehaven and Egremont. There are also two warehouses in Cockermouth and Lillyhall.

How long have you done this job? I started in September 2018 so have been in post for a year now. There are only three part-time paid staff and over 180 volunteers.

Take us through a typical day: All our food is stored at a central warehouse where it is dated and put into boxes that provide three days emergency food to people in crisis. Different boxes feed single people, couples, families and those with no heating or cooking facilities. The foodbank van distributes food boxes to different locations and makes collections. For example on a Monday we deliver a week’s worth of boxes to Whitehaven centre and then collect food from all the local supermarkets – donated by the public – which is brought back, sorted and taken to the warehouse.

The first task of the day is to ensure that we know the number of boxes to be delivered to a centre. After that two days are never the same. It will include speaking with those in need, ‘signposting’ them to the most appropriate service and helping them find their nearest foodbank centre. There is the necessary admin, updating of policies and regular reviews of our service to fit in. I try to visit two centres each week. I’m lucky that I can speak to those who use our foodbanks or talk with our volunteers to gain feedback and see where we can improve.

I am regularly asked to give talks and warehouse visits so that people of all ages better understand the scale of the foodbank service. I spend quite a lot of time looking at trends to ensure that we will have enough food coming in to service the needs of each of the centres. We are grateful to all those people who donate food as the need remains constant all year round. We are expecting demand for the lunchpacks 4 Kids scheme to exceed the 1,250 bags given out last year (more than eight tonnes) which supported 400 families.

What do you like most about the job? I never get tired of saying that our volunteers are what I like most. They attend week in, week out with a smile on their faces wanting to (and knowing that they do) make a difference. They do so many different things – sorting food, packing at the warehouse, driving the van, staffing the six centres, undertaking admin duties etc. Without them the North Lakes Foodbank just wouldn’t exist. Their commitment is immense and unstinting. I’m also lucky that I get to see those people who have need of the foodbank, hear their stories and take back their grateful thanks for the support that they are given at a time of real need.

What do you like least? The very fact that my job exists. In an ideal world there would be no need for foodbanks. In this last year usage has increased by nearly nine per cent when I would much rather see it decrease year on year. We were required to give out 3,263 boxes of food which fed the equivalent of nearly 6,000 people; a third of these were children. To give some perspective the NLFB gave out 60 tonnes of food last year; the equivalent of a small car in weight per week.

Why did you want to do this job? I decided to retire early and do something that would give back to the community. I really liked my last job but decided it was time for a change. I gave six months’ notice and had no idea that this was where I would find myself, I was sure though that it would be something for the church. The NLFB has a strong Christian ethos.

What jobs have you done previously? I am a chartered civil engineer and started out designing and building bridges (my wife would say I’m a bridge ‘nut’); during eight years in Manchester I worked on the Metrolink Scheme and undertook voluntary work in Ethiopia, whilst in Cumbria I have worked for Carlisle City Council, Eden District Council and then more recently at Energus and a large holiday company.

What qualifications or experience do you need? There is no need for a formal qualification. Interpersonal skills are the most important as is common sense and a sense of perspective. Experience of H&S requirements and people management is of benefit.

What is a typical salary for this job? Believe me you don’t do this for the money! I took an 85 per cent pay cut for this role, but it is undoubtedly the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. My pay is a little above the living wage.

Any advice for people wanting to get into your profession? This job is more of a vocation than a profession. There are volunteering organisations out there that offer the chance to help and make a difference in so many ways. There is a great deal of satisfaction to be had and you can start at any age. We have young people volunteering as part of their Duke of Edinburgh Award whilst others choose to join once they have retired.