Food and thought

[Photo: Left to right: Grainne Moher (food manager, Genesis Trust), Helen Rich (managing director, Taste of Bath), Mayor Rob Appleyard, Louisa Oldfield (development manager, Bath Festivals), Stacey Amoroso (HR assistant, Knorr-Bremse]

Here’s a great idea that will benefit families already using Bath Foodbank.

Under a scheme launched jointly by local businesses and charities. they are now able to take new books home for their children, alongside their groceries.

“Almost one in five children aged five to eight don’t have a single book of their own at home”, according to The National Literacy Trust’s 2022 annual literacy survey. To help address this in Bath and North East Somerset, Genesis Trust, Taste of Bath, Mr B’s Emporium Bookshop and Bath Festivals have worked together to set up a Bookbank at each of Bath Foodbank’s three locations, offering free, new books for children and teens to take home and keep. 

S, a mum of three using the Foodbank for the first time, chose three books for her children. She said: “I’ve been struggling a lot over the last few months and getting help from my family, but I can’t keep asking them for more money, so I had to come to the Foodbank. I was worried what people would think of me but it’s not like that at all. The books are great, my children will love them. I’m not able to buy them things as all my money goes on things we need, so it will be nice to treat them after school. Thank you.”

The original idea for the Bookbank came from Taste of Bath, a local hamper company showcasing independent food and drink. Taste of Bath has partnered with Bath Foodbank since 2021, and since September 2022 has donated £1 to the Foodbank for every hamper sold. While the majority of funds donated by Taste of Bath goes towards emergency food parcels for people in crisis, the Foodbank team knows from long experience that thoughtful extra gestures can make a huge difference. Taste of Bath has also helped with money for toy vouchers at Christmas, ice creams in the summer holidays and small gifts for Mother’s Day. In summer 2022, Taste of Bath reached out to Bath Children’s Literature Festival to talk about possible ongoing projects, and the idea of the Bath Bookbank was born, with local bookseller Mr B’s Emporium coming on board too.

“The joy, escapism and companionship that books can offer, to young readers and adults alike, should never be underestimated, which is why the Foodbank’s initiative in having books available to be discovered and taken away is so brilliant and vital,” says Nic Bottomley, founder of Mr B’s. Experts in matchmaking books and their readers, Mr B’s selects the best reads for the Bookbank, from first board books to YA novels, and with a generous discount on retail prices. The remainder is funded by Taste of Bath’s donations, with corporate clients Knorr-Bremse Rail Systems (UK) Ltd stepping in as sponsor to purchase the book trollies that house the Bookbank in each Foodbank location. Bath Children’s Literature Festival has donated plenty of the latest releases directly, thanks to connections with the best children’s authors. “Everyone should have access to books, ideas and stories, no matter what their background or circumstances – which is why we’re delighted to support the Bookbank initiative,” says Louisa Oldfield, development manager at Bath Festivals.

“It’s been such a positive addition to the Foodbank, people are really making the most of it and the books are flying off the shelves! Almost every parent and adult visiting the foodbank has welcomed browsing the book trollies,” says Grainne Moher, Foodbank Manager. “The Bookbank also really helps make our centres feel more welcoming. Visiting a foodbank is not always easy for someone, particularly if it’s for the first time. We always try to make our centres a warm and comfortable space and having these lovely books on offer definitely makes a difference.”

The Foodbank team spend a lot of time chatting to those who make use of the Foodbank and know first-hand that gestures like the Bookbank can be incredibly humanising, something that’s a vital lifeline to people in crisis. “A common theme in our meetings with the Foodbank is the idea that ‘food is not the only sustenance we need to keep going’,” says Helen Rich, MD of Taste of Bath. “While we’re incredibly proud to fund the emergency food parcels, working with the Foodbank has given us the opportunity to learn a lot more about other support that’s also needed.”

Local schools are now getting involved, running their own campaigns to collect new books for the Bookbank, and having seen such an incredibly positive response from Foodbank users, the team is keen to expand the concept to offer books for all ages. Watch this space!