‘How is the food bank doing?’ Everyone asks me. The short answer, of course, is, ‘Much better, since Daisy Bates took over from me as manager’!

Seriously though, you have to give a rather different answer about how a food bank is ‘doing’ than you would if you were being asked about your hedge fund, or your property company, or whatever else you work for: because in one sense you might say that a food bank was successful when it’s no longer needed, and so it’s closing – but, whichever party wins the next election, I think that, sadly, nothing much is likely to change, at least so far as the people who haven’t enough to buy food are concerned.

What would really help our clients – and might indeed probably put us out of business – would be legislation to raise the minimum wage to the ‘Living Wage’: to stamp out the ways that people get round paying people properly, like zero-hours contracts and the use of employment contractors in Eastern Europe. And of course, if there was a proper council house building programme and the bedroom tax was abolished until it was completed. That would all help.

But as things are, we have found out that, even in the second most prosperous borough in England, Elmbridge – which is where Cobham is – there are significant numbers of people who need to obtain vouchers for the food bank.

We’ve also found out that the Trussell Trust standard model, of food to cover emergencies, lasting at most three or four weeks, is not really adequate for a number of our clients. We keep full statistics of all the reasons for needing a food voucher, and by far the biggest causes of hunger here are low income and unemployment, 49.8% and 23.3% of all the people fed since we started. Although we hear that unemployment has gone down, our figures suggest that unfortunately some of the new jobs don’t pay enough for people to live on. As I said earlier, whichever party or parties form the next government, it would be good if they raised the minimum wage. Changes in the State benefit system and delays in paying benefits were relatively minor causes of need – 5.2% and 5.8% respectively.

People just not earning enough to live on is a cause of food poverty which isn’t capable of being fixed in three or four weeks. We therefore have some clients who have come to the Foodbank over a longer period. The procedure in such cases is that the Foodbank manager checks with the agency which issues the vouchers in question, to verify that there is a genuine continuing urgent need. It has been very unusual – only a couple of cases since we started – for me to find a case where I believe that someone is exploiting the Foodbank wrongly.

To go back briefly to the beginning, I should report that the Foodbank was set up by a working group from Churches Together. Most of the working group then became trustees. I want to thank my fellow trustees for all their hard work and support in setting up and administering the Foodbank.

We took two key strategic decisions at the outset, to become affiliated to the biggest network of food banks, the Trussell Trust network, and to establish the Foodbank as an independent charity, registered as a Charitable Incorporated Organisation. St Andrew’s Church, here, lent us the £1,500 joining fee for our Trussell Trust subscription, which gave us a comprehensive operating manual – in detail, how to run your food bank – computer software and their national data system, training for our volunteers, and important publicity materials and support.

We leased a 400 sq.ft. warehouse at Brook Willow Farm just outside Leatherhead, and Waitrose kindly fitted it out with shelving. We use Waitrose crates too – they haven’t charged us for any of the shelving or the crates. The crates cost about £4 each, and at any one time we have about 200 of them.

The Methodist Church offered the use of their hall in Cedar Road as a distribution centre, from which we hand out food in exchange for vouchers on Friday lunchtimes from midday to 1.30. The Methodist Church gave us exclusive use of a walk-in cupboard at the hall, which Sainsbury’s kindly fitted out for us without charge. Sainsbury’s have also been great supporters. They allow us to get food up to a certain value each month, to fill gaps in what we have been given.

Trussell Trust provides special training for anyone who is going to work at the sharp end, dealing with clients in the distribution centre. It can be very tough for some people to be brave enough to go to the Foodbank, and those of you who work in the ‘DC’, as we call it, have created a really welcoming and non-judgmental atmosphere. Well done and thanks for that.

Cargill’s generosity enabled us to lease the best van in the world, a Mercedes Sprinter, and we were able to have it wrapped in its distinctive green livery through generous donations.

We have been wonderfully supported financially. We have had major support from Cargill (both as a company and from staff collections), from the Community Foundation for Surrey (who awarded grants from funds contributed by various local organisations); from Cobham Combined Charities, Tearfund, Elmbridge Borough Council, this church St Andrew’s in Cobham, and from St Mary’s, and from many individuals.

We now need to encourage as many people as possible to give us a modest amount regularly, with a Gift Aid declaration if possible. There are forms here for you to fill in!

We have 132 volunteers on the books – it’s great to see so many of you here today. Some of you are DC specialists, some work in the warehouse, receiving, logging and storing the food donated each week; and some work with the van, as drivers or driver’s mates. We need more drivers and mates. The van can be driven by anyone who has a clean car licence. I will give you a little training run, which you will find pretty easy. She has a manual gearbox – 6 speeds – and she doesn’t have parking sensors, I’m afraid. But as the van dealers said when I collected her, ‘She does have a step!’ Just remember that if you park behind our van in future.

Every week, the congregations of our seven churches fill their green Foodbank bins and we collect it all up in the van. We’ve had generous helpful so from several of our schools – Parkside, St Matthew’s, ACS, Notre Dame, Feltonfleet and Danes Hill. We have bins in Waitrose, Starbucks and Sainsbury’s Metro on the High Street.

As well as their generous financial help, Cargill have provided volunteers to tackle busy periods in the warehouse, typically after we’ve had a collection day outside Waitrose or the big Sainsbury’s; those collections produce a van-ful of food, usually around one metric ton. It fills about 100 supermarket crates, the contents of which all have to be unloaded, weighed and tallied.

We have signed up over 20 voucher issuers – various agencies and people who are in a position to verify that a person is in genuine need, such as the CAB, Jobcentre, Oasis Childcare Trust, various arms of Elmbridge Borough Council such as the Housing Benefit department and Cobham Centre for the Community, and all the ministers of religion. The voucher system means that there is never any awkwardness at the ‘point of sale’ – anyone who presents a voucher is entitled to get some food: no ifs, no buts. They are entitled.

Finally in the roll of honour of supporters, I should mention the press, especially the Surrey Advertiser, who have given us really good coverage, and our MP, Dominic Raab, who came and officially opened the Foodbank in December 2013.

So, largely thanks to you, we are up and running. We are the fourth food bank in the borough of Elmbridge, and one of over 400 in the Trussell Trust network. I originally offered to be the manager for one year, and so I was very pleased when Daisy offered to take over. You have been finding out – and fixing – all the various things I hadn’t quite got round to, and already I think the Foodbank is looking more dynamic and go-ahead. I hope you’ll all follow us on Twitter – that’s where you’ll see all the news about the Foodbank, and especially, what we’re short of, every week.

I can honestly say that my year as Foodbank manager has been really fulfilling, and I hope that, with all your help, we’ve laid good foundations for long service for needy people in Cobham. I am planning to move nearer my family in Bristol later this year. Meanwhile I will be very happy to continue to work as a trustee, and my special area will be transport, looking after our lovely van!

Hugh Bryant