Working together to welcome Refugees

By Louisa Hobbs

Operations Manager at MK Food Bank

Refugees in Milton Keynes

As the country reels from the escalating cost of living crisis, I wanted to focus today’s blog on a more uplifting story. One that is all about solidarity, collaboration and the well-known global unifier that is football!

Early in March, four men turned up at the Food Bank warehouse in Kiln Farm. I answered the door and discovered they had walked for two hours from the hostel they are staying at, having Googled ‘food banks’. They told me their story, that they were asylum seekers from Iran who had arrived in the UK five days previously and only had the clothes they were wearing on their journey.

In the first instance I gave them kettle packs – smaller food parcels containing pot noodles, instant oats etc that only needs hot water to prepare. Wanting to know more however, I made contact with the manager of the hostel and paid a visit.

45 single men of 15 different nationalities had arrived in the location just outside Milton Keynes in the last week. They are supported by the Home Office as all of them have applied for asylum, but now have to wait for a decision which could take anything up to 5 or even 10 years. The situation in Ukraine is likely to make waits even longer.

The Home Office-funded hostel provides three meals a day and basic toiletries but the men typically have no spare clothes. While asylum claims are processed, the men must make do on £8 per week, leaving little or no money for snacks or transport. We were able to support with some immediate supplies, but when I asked how we as a community could best support the group, overwhelmingly the answer was that they are bored with nothing to do. Unable legally to work, even on a voluntary basis, their days, weeks and months of waiting seemed endless.

Enter our good friends Football for Foodbanks (FFF). Playing in Milton Keynes since September last year, the charity arranges several local matches a week and turns a portion of match fees into donations of food which they buy for us every month. Having already donated over £1,000 worth of food, the arrival of the refugees gave the perfect opportunity to demonstrate a warm welcome through the beautiful game. In true collaborative spirit, local company Bill’s Minibus and Coach Hire provided transport, Berks and Bucks FA donated boots and kit and regular players brought drinks and snacks.

Altogether 9 of the refugees joined local players for an 11-aside match last week. FFF Head George Ridgeway said: ‘We were absolutely blown away by these matches. The positive culture that is created by playing football to defeat food poverty is addictive and uplifting. Being able to extend this to this community made for an incredible and emotional day all round. There was nothing but good energy and smiles’.

Following on from the success of these matches, FFF and MK Food Bank are speaking to the FA about future opportunities for refugees and other marginalised communities.

Watch this space!

To find out more about FFF, or to sign up to play yourself, join their Facebook group: Football For Foodbanks – Milton Keynes Division – Find A Match | Facebook

Louisa making up 45 clothing packs for refugees in Milton Keynes
Louisa making up clothing and food parcels for local refugees.

How you can help

So far in 2022, MK Food Bank has supported over 5,000 people with emergency food parcels.
With the rising cost of living and the affects of the pandemic taking a toll on households across the UK, Food Banks have seen a sharp rise in people needing support.

In Milton Keynes, MK Food Bank has recorded an increase this winter (January to March) of 14% on the same period in 2021 – which itself was the food bank’s busiest winter to date.

Compared to 2019 figures of the same period, MK Food Bank are now supporting 37% more people.

If the cost of living crisis is not tackled, and particularly if the energy price cap rises again in October this year, we predict that need for our services could be as much as 30% higher next winter.

While there is a lot of generosity in Milton Keynes, current levels of donations are likely not be enough to meet the extra demand this crisis is causing, and we are ramping up efforts to raise donations of food and money so we can continue to support local families and individuals who are struggling.

You can help by making monthly donations on local Giving

You can fundraise for us with your business, school or individual via Just giving, buying our T-shirts or merchandise.

And you can donate food each week, just head to one of our many drop off points or at our Warehouse here in Kiln Farm.