With the ensuing Coronavirus Crisis, many families in the North West have required the assistance of Food Banks in order to ensure they have been able to eat.
In order to help those experiencing food poverty during this period and beyond get the help they need, Dominic Lipscombe, a 25 year old from Liverpool is currently developing a free app which helps users find their nearest Food Banks, their opening times and locations and food requirements, for those wishing to donate.
Lipscombe tells me the inspiration for the idea behind My Food Bank Finder came out of the news that last December, Conservative MP Miriam Cates and her husband had developed a similar service that was charging Food Banks upwards of £180 in order to be merely featured on the app itself.
“This was started in the middle of December 2019. It came out in the news that a Conservative MP, Miriam Cates and her husband have an application which appears to be very basic yet they charge £180 + VAT to each Food Bank that wants to use it.
“I found this absolutely disgusting. I don’t live in a bubble where charities get everything for free, but I do understand that things like this can be, so here we are!”
The app itself will, unlike the app Cates and her husband have created, be free to both food banks who plan to use the service and also the general public- something Lipscombe acknowledges was integral to the concept of the initiative itself.
“If we ever even contemplate charging Food Banks, their users, donors, etc. to use this service then it’s game over. We’ve even refused donations of good amounts as we do not need it.
“We’d rather you donate to your local Food Bank or a similar service – in Liverpool we’ve got Fans Supporting Foodbanks who provide a great service for example. They need your money – give it to the people most in need.”
Despite the app being free, Lipscombe confirms that the service is cost effective and will be able to become completely self-sufficient.
“The costs to operate it aren’t that much to be honest. We work with our suppliers to bring down the costs on the basis of what we do.
“When we do foresee us needing donations, we will speak to the people who have offered and we know can afford it. We don’t just want to take money for the sake of it.”
Lipscombe also confirms that further plans are in the pipeline for further engagement with the public, which he feels is necessary despite the virtual nature of the service itself.
“We have a lot of plans in the pipeline. Ideally the main aim would be for food banks to become obsolete but in reality, I sadly can’t see it. We’ve got plans to do some things in public as well, which should be good.
“This isn’t even just about the app, as technology can’t just solve every one of life’s problems. It requires a genuine human touch – you’ll have probably experienced taking an email the wrong way.
“Some things need true emotion. That’s something you genuinely feel listening to people’s stories on how they’ve ended up in their situation.”
In order to move the project along even further Lipscombe now says that his innovation requires exposure to ensure that the project remains as representative to communities as possible.
“We have had a lot of exposure so far, which is amazing, but we could always do with more. We want people’s opinions and we truly want this to be the people’s project where they decide the outcomes.
“I personally have never used a food bank. I have volunteered at Breakfast Clubs, Pop up kitchens and food banks to get the real feel. Despite all this, I don’t want this to be some patronising thing where I tell them why they need a feature. We want to add features people will actually use.
Lipscombe recently posted surveys on Twitter in a bid to work out the reasons why people are using foodbanks and states that a wider aim of this scheme to also improve research around the needs of people.
“There are a million and one reasons as to why somebody might be using a food bank, and there definitely isn’t one size fits all reasoning.
“We want to use the research we’ve gained to make better decisions on what to add, what to do in the future and so on.”
Even with the current Covid-19 crisis, the development of the app itself has not stopped, with the full service set to launch shortly. In the meantime, a temporary system that allows users to search and view their local Food Banks has been set up in order to ensure people get the help they need during this time of great need.
“The app hasn’t launched yet, we’re in the testing phase of the main app now, but we have put a temporary ‘search’ and ‘view’ system up during the Covid-19 crisis.
“People need help now, later could be too late. It was a very good decision by the way – the system has been absolutely hammered! We’re so happy it’s helping people.”
To ensure the legacy of the project in the future, Dominic has enlisted the help of a range of experienced personnel, something he feels was necessary in order to maximise the app’s impact in future years.
In fact, Lipscombe has already been able to enlist the help of Caroline Hills, Head of Digital Global Delivery at the British Council and Claudia Rodriguez Head of Compliance & DPO at Bought by Many.
This is alongside Dave Kelly, the chairman of Fans Supporting Foodbanks; Donna Scully, the director and owner of the Carpenters Group and Sarah Dodd of the Oliver McVeigh Foundation.
“One of the first people I spoke to was actually Dave Kelly from Fans Supporting Foodbanks and he’s been great – he truly knows his stuff. So much so that I’ve put him on the board to help drive this project forward.
“When I first announced the project, one of the main concerns we had was what if I get bored, or what if I sell up and so on. These are all genuine concerns which I completely understand,” Lipscombe explains.
“Because of that, I spent about 2 months looking for the right team to ensure longevity of this project, and to make sure we’re doing everything right. We have some amazing people on board, and we made the announcements a few weeks ago, which can be found on our Twitter page.”
Lipscombe says that the draw to helping people was one that he simply could not resist.
“Honestly, for something like this – if I could avoid being so loud I would purely for the dignity of the people we help. But the reality is nobody takes notice if you do quietly and this is such a big issue that one or two people can’t tackle it alone.
“The louder you are the more people turn and look. I’ve had so many people message me about getting involved and have ended up helping in their own way. I see part of my job to get people around my age involved,” he adds.
“I’m 25 now – 26 at the end of the month, but say 45 years from now the ‘older’ people involved have had to either pack it in or aren’t even here any more, who helps out then? We can’t just leave it to people who are a bit older.
“In saying that, one of the main people behind Fans Supporting Foodbanks- Dave Kelly – is running the whole operation from his house as he’s got to stay in doors for 12 weeks. This only works when we all work together.”
For Lipscombe, despite witnessing the dreadful situations that have afflicted so many during the time since he began helping out, he does feel that the experience has been an enriching one.
“Honestly, the situation is more dire than I could imagine. As well as the volunteering I do with Fans Supporting Food Banks, I also arrange to pick up unwanted food from shops and then give it out to the homeless around the city.
“Shops donate food- Tesco have been great. One person even said to me if I worked for them the other day because of how much we get off them.
“Just seeing their faces before the food even comes out is amazing. Some have even started to remember my name and I do remember theirs. The stories are honestly heartwarming. I’m obviously not about to share them but, wow.”
One particularly humbling tale of a time he helped out at a Breakfast Club on Merseyside to volunteer led to a touching moment that spurred him on to take more action- giving himself a newfound sense of purpose.
“We moan about the stupid things in life. One of the most touching things I’ve ever seen has got to be the first time I went to a Breakfast Club just before Christmas at the Charles Thompson’s Mission in Birkenhead, an initiative set up between Fans Supporting Food Banks and Carpenters Law.”
“At around 9 in the morning, everybody was singing, dancing and everyone was so happy.
“Usually I’d have been in bed till about 12. That single moment has pushed me to do better.”
Further information can be found on My Food Bank Finder’s Twitter page: @myfbfapp