The Arsenal Foundation

Helping to feed those in need

The Arsenal Foundation’s emergency Covid fund has helped The ARC Centre’s local food bank. The charity’s creative director Damien Brown tells us how it was converted from community centre to food hub.

“For me, The ARC started with a conversation in a cafe. My background was commercial property – I ran an estate agency, but it wasn’t very fulfilling so I moved into property guardianship, creating housing for others. Something still wasn’t quite right though, so I linked up with two friends to see if we could use empty commercial spaces to benefit local communities.

“We heard that the Hyde housing association was reviewing local community centres so we applied for The ARC despite the fact it was making a loss. We won it, with a vision to use the space as a real asset that would also make money, without any external support. That was three years ago, and all was going to plan until last March.

“We made a judgement call to close the centre two weeks before the first lockdown to protect vulnerable people. Then two things happened. Firstly a friend of mine who runs a busy cafe in Covent Garden asked if he could store his equipment at the centre. There was loads of it. ‘We could start a food bank with all this,’ I said, joking. But then I heard that local food banks were closing – people were hoarding food so there wasn’t the usual surplus from the supermarkets. I thought that was wrong. We had 3,500 square feet with a kitchen, fridges and equipment, so I called some local banks to ask if they needed anything. They basically said, ‘We’re overrun, why don’t you do it?’

“I put out a call for volunteers and 20 people responded immediately. We then raised £500 for food but had no idea how to get people in so we contacted Bright Start children’s services. We set up a referral system and through a shout out to our mailing list of 2,000 people raised £7,500. That enabled us to buy food from restaurant suppliers.

“Over time we had help from Islington Council, other local organisations, food banks and of course The Arsenal Foundation, and it has snowballed from there. We went from supplying 14 households at the start to 75 now – more than 250 people – and demand shows no sign of abating.  Our long-term plan is for people to become members of a food co-op, and we’re setting up a huge vegetable garden as well so people can get involved.

“I’m so proud of what we and so many local people have achieved – it’s the best thing I’ve ever done. It has galvanised the community, our volunteers have forged last relationships and the feedback and gratitude we’ve received from the people we’ve helped has been overwhelming. People have really stepped up and put their hearts into it, working together and having fun in the process. One good thing to come from the pandemic is the number of people volunteering to help others, and long may that continue.”

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