Food poverty in the UK is at an all-time high. According to the Trussell Trust’s most recently available statistics:
- Between 1 April 2022 – 30 September 2022, Trussell Trust’s food banks distributed 1.3 million food parcels, an increase of 52% compared to the same period in 2019. Half a million of these parcels were distributed to children.
- The number of food parcels distributed by food banks in these six months was more than was distributed in the full 12 months of 2016/17
- One in five people referred to food banks were in households where someone is working.
- 328,000 people used a food bank for the first time in these six months. This was comprised of 145,000 families, a 45% increase in the number of families using food banks for the first time compared to the same period in 2021.
- Independent research for the Trussell Trust also found 95% of people referred to food banks in early 2020 were destitute, meaning they couldn’t afford the essentials needed to stay warm, dry, and feed themselves
While these are systemic failings that need to be tackled at a government level long term, here’s the story of how football fans have come together to fight food poverty at the grassroots level.
Who are Fans Supporting Foodbanks
Fans Supporting Foodbanks is a network of foodbank collection groups that take place outside football matches across the UK. With the slogan ‘hunger doesn’t wear club colours’; people attending matches are encouraged to donate food and support their local communities, push back on food poverty created by over a decade of austerity, and build working-class solidarity to use football for good.
Fans Supporting Foodbanks was set up in 2015 by Liverpool fan Ian Byrne and Everton fans Dave Kelly and Robbie Daniels, to tackle rising food poverty in their community. Taking inspiration from Celtic F.C. supporter group The Green Brigade, who were organising mass food donations at Celtic Park, Fans Supporting Foodbanks started collecting food donations in wheelie-bins at Anfield and Goodison Park on matchdays. These collections now provide an estimated 30-35% of all food donations to Liverpool food banks.
Inspired by this work in Liverpool, Newcastle supporters decided to set up the NUFC Fans’ Foodbank in 2017. After this, a grassroots network of football fans following this model began to spread across the country.
During the pandemic, with no access to football stadiums, the initiative was also inadvertently boosted when the Premier League announced that games outside of Sky and BT’s broadcast deals would be available to watch on a pay-per-view basis for £14.95 each. This received mass backlash and, at the suggestion of the NUFC Fans’ Foodbank, supporters started donating £14.95 to foodbanks en masse while boycotting pay-per-view.
During and after Liverpool’s PPV fixture against Sheffield United in late October, Fans Supporting Foodbanks raised over £125,000 thanks to the boycott. Across their network and beyond, fan groups have raised tens of thousands more to support those most in need.
How it works
Fans attending can drop off any non-perishable food donations at a Fans Supporting Foobanks collection points outside stadiums on match days. Depending on the specific group, some may also accept donations of cash or card. Staffed by supporters and volunteers, these collection points usually open a couple of hours before the match starts, and close 15 minutes before kick-off.
The core ethos of these initiatives is solidarity, not charity. Founded by committed Trade Unionists, fans build mutual aid, unity and stronger local communities through donations. There is no pity or judgement.
The experience of Fans Supporting Foodbanks was unlike other foodbanks Steve had been to. There’s often music playing, people hanging out and the excitement of the match in the air, which makes the experience less daunting for some. “It’s very informal. You get your regulars, we make everyone feel at ease, and we have a bit of banter with them,” he says. “We don’t judge or discriminate against anyone.”
Steve says that the social atmosphere Fans Supporting Foodbanks fosters means he’ll often talk to clients about their issues and help them with problems outside of the foodbank. “There’s a laptop in the van with WiFi, so we’ll sometimes help people if they’re having issues with Universal Credit, and things like that”
Outside of fighting food poverty, Fans Supporting Foodbanks also consider their work a response to football fan groups with links to the far-right. Where the working-class, especially football fans, have often been demonised and associated with bigotry, they exist to create antifascist solidarity and build strong communities through people power. Because of the important work they do, Fans Supporting Foodbanks also receive strong vocal support from the local clubs they collect outside, especially in Liverpool.
In December 2020 Ian Byrne and Fans Supporting Foodbanks also launched a campaign for the Right to Food to be written into UK law. In January 2021, Liverpool City Council unanimously voted to support the Right to Food being enshrined in law, making it the UK’s first ‘Right to Food’ city.
Overall, it’s initiatives such as these that demonstrate the power of community action and organising to respond to ongoing injustices. While this work shouldn’t have to exist in the first place, for now it is a source of hope and solidarity until we achieve long term change.