Grassroots Enterprise Kirkstall: Leeds food bank forced to close amid rising costs leaving hundreds in poverty

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A Leeds food bank that feeds at least 150 people a week will close its doors for the last time on Friday (September 13).

The Grassroots Enterprise charity shop, in Vesper Road, Kirkstall, has been selling second-hand goods for the last year. It uses the profits to fund its Friday food bank.

But despite seeing countless users each week, volunteers say that rising costs and minimal financial support means it would be impossible to continue.

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It comes as a significant blow to those who depend on the service, many of whom live in poverty. One user told the Yorkshire Evening Post: “I don’t want to have to go back to skipping meals.”

Grassroots Enterprise founders Cecil and Mary Nelson said they hoped to find an affordable or rent free space to carry on the food bank, after announcing that the Kirkstall shop would close for the last time on September 15. Photo: National World.Grassroots Enterprise founders Cecil and Mary Nelson said they hoped to find an affordable or rent free space to carry on the food bank, after announcing that the Kirkstall shop would close for the last time on September 15. Photo: National World.
Grassroots Enterprise founders Cecil and Mary Nelson said they hoped to find an affordable or rent free space to carry on the food bank, after announcing that the Kirkstall shop would close for the last time on September 15. Photo: National World.

Married couple Mary and Cecil Nelson set up the charity back in 2014. As well as the food bank in Kirkstall, they have a community café in Harehills and another charity shop in the city centre.

Grassroots Enterprise was established with the aim of helping people in need, whether that be refugees, reformed offenders or young people. But with the cost of living crisis, more pressure has been put on the project than ever before.

Mary explained: “There was more support for charities during covid, but that died down after the pandemic. We are paying for 122kg of food each week, but with rent at £1,000 a month, we couldn’t continue here.

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“We want to find a space where rent is either affordable or free. That would give us leverage to save the money we make through the charity shop and the café to take care of costs.”

From left, volunteer Barbara Davies with Mary and Cecil Nelson, who run the Grassroots Enterprise charity shop and food bank in Kirkstall which feeds at least 150 people a week. Photo: National World.From left, volunteer Barbara Davies with Mary and Cecil Nelson, who run the Grassroots Enterprise charity shop and food bank in Kirkstall which feeds at least 150 people a week. Photo: National World.
From left, volunteer Barbara Davies with Mary and Cecil Nelson, who run the Grassroots Enterprise charity shop and food bank in Kirkstall which feeds at least 150 people a week. Photo: National World.

Despite contact with MPs, a visit from the county’s Lord Lieutenant and even an award from the High Sheriff of West Yorkshire, there has been no way to save the food bank from closure.

Mary said that she has contacted all three of her councillors in the Kirkstall ward about the situation, but has had no response.

However, it is still hoped that a rent free space can be found. Previously, Grassroots Enterprise had a base above the Horsforth branch of Lloyds bank, which is now closed.

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That was arranged through an organisation that pairs commercial businesses with charities to make use of vacant spaces. Grassroots Enterprise is currently on a waiting list with the scheme to find a similar arrangement to the one in Horsforth.

But until then, people in Kirkstall and the surrounding areas will feel the absence of the food bank.

One service user said: “This has helped my mental health. I’m going to miss it a lot. So many people were upset last week when they were told it was closing. I don’t want to have to go back to skipping meals.”

Barbara Davies, who volunteers behind the till, explained that the building’s use as a charity shop allows people who may feel embarrassed about using a food bank to enter without shame.

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She said: “People often wander in to have a look and then say I’m in trouble, can you help me? We see people who are really low. We’re always hoping things are going to get better and there is some sunshine coming, but it’s just hard. And there’s probably a need for a food bank almost everywhere now.”

Some users have burst into tears at the relief of being given food that will last them for the rest of the week. Cecil, who runs the project with Mary, said it was an “emotional” time for volunteers too.

He added: “We have to go back to the drawing board. We need to look at what we can do differently, because we are doing the same thing and getting the same results. I’m hoping we can get some funding to help us.”

The Yorkshire Evening Post asked the councillors for the Kirkstall ward for their response to the situation.

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Labour Coun Andy Rontree, who was elected in May, said: “All through the covid-19 pandemic and the cost of living crisis, Leeds City Council has provided financial support to several voluntary groups engaged in supplying food to people in need in the Kirkstall ward and throughout the city.”

He said these included the Kirkstall Valley Development Trust, that offers a food pantry and a twice weekly meal, as well as the St Mary’s and St Andrew’s Food Project that runs a weekly food bank.

Coun Rontree encouraged those needing help with food and utility bills to contact the authority’s welfare service on 0113 376 033 or via the council’s website.