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Interview with Helen Eden, Co-ordinator of the Bicton Heath Foodshare by Simon Cousins

Helen Eden has been helping to run the Tuesday morning Foodshare outside Bicton Heath Community Hall for two years. Shrewsbury Food Hub supplies surplus food harvested from supermarkets to 15 weekly Foodshares at locations across the town. Helen took over the running of the Foodshare from gentle giant Seamus, a familiar figure around the community. “It was only the fact I’ve got a car big enough to put the tables in!” says Helen, with typical modesty. “But I really enjoy it. There’s nothing negative about helping out.”

Sue Cooper was the founder volunteer and ran a Foodshare trial at the local church in Bicton in the summer of 2019. Unfortunately, it didn’t get a very good response, because there was a busy Co-op nearby and a lot of footfall, which seemed to put people off. So Seamus suggested moving it to a more peaceful location just outside the Community Hall in Pensfold, Bicton Heath and it was relaunched there in the autumn of the same year.

Covid-19 struck the next year, of course.

“Throughout the pandemic, it was more advantageous to be outside,” explains Helen. “And we’d have to pay to use the community hall anyway: it’s not a free resource. So we just put our coats on and normally it’s been absolutely fine. Through the winter, we had four or five consecutive really wet days, but we managed. I don’t think anybody wants to move the location. We’re quite happy to stay here.”

Before becoming involved with the Bicton Foodshare, Helen was a volunteer at the Church of the Holy Spirit in Meadow Farm Drive. “They found me a role there when we were doing Track and Trace, but when that stopped, I became redundant! Actually, Bicton’s nearer to where I live. One day I just went down there to get some food and mentioned that I helped at Holy Spirit and they said, ‘We could do with somebody here.’” So Helen joined them. “Sue Lassiter was walking past with her dog and  she offered her time. And then ‘New Sue’ – she calls herself “Sue 3”! –  mentioned she could volunteer too.” They all make a great team.

Like all the Foodshares, Helen’s is run on a ‘pay as you feel’ basis, but people are encouraged  to make a suggested £1 donation, if they can. Funds raised help to “keep the wheels turning.”

“Between 25 and 30 people come every week,” Helen tells me. “Some familiar faces and some that we don’t sometimes see for a while; they have a few weeks away and then they come back to us. We have a real range of people that come. The community at Bicton is quite diverse. So when we’ve had vegetables that we couldn’t even identify, people in the queue have told us what they are and how to cook them.”

I ask Helen which foods are the most popular.

“Fruit is very popular…and the chilled goods. And I would say cakes, actually, seem to be most popular! As with all the Foodshares, there’s a lot of bread. We normally bring any left over back to the Hub depot.”

“Although some people are clearly there because they are passionate about avoiding food waste, the majority of people come for support with their weekly household expenditure,” continues Helen. “We’ve now got a system where we don’t start till quarter past 9. So everybody in our queue gets a share. They can come round a second time and they take plentiful amounts of what we’ve got. When I took it over from Seamus, there were the people who were treating it as a food grab! So we had to do a lot of work with that. We had some people coming who just wouldn’t listen or understand what our purpose was.”

Claire, one of the co-ordinators at the Shrewsbury Food Hub depot, comes to offer Helen an Eccles cake and says, “I was at Bicton last week and I was so impressed with how you really managed fairness and sharing beautifully. There was a jolliness and a lightness but a really clear line. There are rules. This is about how it’s fair for everybody.”

Helen agrees.

“One cold winter morning, somebody had tied their bag at the start of the queue and then sat in their warm car, with it running, and then they came to the front, with all these elderly people queuing behind an empty bag. That’s not the kind of atmosphere we want. We don’t volunteer to promote that. It’s taken a bit of work, but it’s good now.”

Bicton Heath’s Foodshare, publicised by word of mouth and online by the Shrewsbury Food Hub is run entirely by volunteers like Helen and is a meeting point for the local community. It can be found at Pensfold, Shrewsbury, SY3 5HF, outside the Community Hall and runs from 9.15am to 9.45am every Tuesday, where good quality food, collected that very morning, will always find a good home.

Interview with Helen Eden, Co-ordinator of the Bicton Heath Foodshare

Conducted by Simon Cousins