Behind every foodbank across the nation are the unsung heroes. This week, reporter Hilary Scott speaks to two men who, for several years, have helped the people of Peeblesshire...

It’s hard to believe that the Peeblesshire Foodbank has been running for almost a decade.

When Francis Mordaunt and James Adams decided to join the small team of volunteers, they all thought the foodbank would be short-lived, a stop-gap while the economy recovered from the financial collapse.

But the desperate crisis of people going hungry continued to rise, and the impact of the pandemic was felt most deeply by poorer households.

Former manager Francis, and team leader James, have now retired from their roles.

This week, they told me how the foodbank went from operating from a garage with a few referrals, to becoming a registered charity with premises in Cavalry Park, feeding hundreds of people across the county.

The foodbank was formed in 2013 following a meeting held at St.Peters Episcopal Church, initiated by the Rector Rev Jim Benton-Evans.

Rev Jim was chairman, Katie Buckingham was secretary, and the manager was Gillian Hughes. The board of governors included several clergy, a headteacher, a local councillor and several others, who decided to operated under the auspices of The Trussell Trust, who were involved in many other foodbanks in the UK.

Francis retired to Peebles that year and joined the congregation of St Peter’s.

“Having told Rev Jim that I was interested in becoming involved in the community, he invited me to become a volunteer,” he said.

“Many years earlier, while living in Edinburgh, I had helped at the Old St.Pauls Ritz Café that provided breakfasts during the week to the homeless men and women in the Grassmarket and central Edinburgh. So volunteering at the foodbank in Peebles appealed to me as it was another opportunity to help those who for whatever reason were going hungry.”

Initially, Francis’s voluntary role was packing food parcels at the Bakehouse Hall and delivering them.

“In those early days, the food was stored in Enid Clarie’s garage in March Street Lane,” he said.

In Autumn 2013, local MP David Mundell officially opened the Peeblesshire Foodbank, and Francis was appointed treasurer.

Francis said: “I inherited a positive bank balance from the initial fundraising efforts before I became a volunteer. Unfortunately, our costs were almost non-existent, so there was little to do; the first purchase I remember was a set of scales as the Trussell Trust required us to weigh all food donations in and out and record them on a central database.”

The foodbank soon moved to more permanent premises in Cavalry Park with storage space for food donations.

Francis added: “We now had a modest rent to pay, insurance costs and a mobile phone but few other costs. The Trussell Trust required us to become a charity, and Rev Jim asked me to complete the application to the Scottish Charity Commission.”

The Peeblesshire Foodbank became a registered charity in January 2015, and two years later, Rev Jim handed over the reins of the foodbank.

Before departing, he set up a management structure to ensure the foodbank continued to run smoothly.

Francis, who was appointed as manager, worked with team leader James Adams.

Rev Callum MacDougall was the chairman until his retirement in 2019, when Father Tony Lappin took up the position.

“Once the pandemic hit the premises at Cavalry Park became hopelessly small, and Father Tony arranged for the foodbank to move temporarily to St Joseph’s Hall,” explained Francis.

“So one of my last actions for the foodbank before retiring was to arrange the rental of the new much bigger premises in Cavalry Park where the Peeblesshire foodbank is now located.”

Since its inception, the number of people reaching out to the foodbank for help has grown rapidly.

“In the early years, we had up to two referrals a week, about 100 a year with an average of two people fed per referral. That meant we were feeding about 200 people a year,” said Francis. “By 2018, that had increased to nearly 400 people a year, and by 2020 it was over 700.”

Francis said the role made him quite emotional at times: “In several cases, the recipients burst into tears on receiving their food parcels delivered to their doors. It meant a lot to me to see the gratitude as the foodbank was meeting an urgent need.”

James’s involvement in the foodbank echoed Francis’s, as he retired to Peebles from Belfast in 2012 and joined St Peter’s Church.

He said: “My wife and I were anxious to get involved with the community and make friends, and to help with a foodbank seemed a worthwhile opportunity.”

Recalling the old days when they used a garage to store food, James said: “It had no heat or light and little if any shelving, but it was a base. Donations were mainly from Tesco collections.

“There was a book recording parcels issued, and my memory was that perhaps only four or five were issued in an average week, and there was a description of the call and the circumstances. I don’t think the availability of the Foodbank was well publicised at that time.”

However, he says there was a difficult period when he and Francis struggled to keep up with demand.

“We ended up covering 10 days at a time, which was not sustainable. We were, on average, delivering around eight parcels per week at that time.”

Appeals for help brought in big-hearted community volunteers.

James said: “We were able to move to a four-week rota, and Bill (Fenton) took responsibility for uplifting donations and collecting empty boxes. In addition, positive steps were taken to advertise the foodbank and increase usage, and leaders met at intervals to discuss all aspects of the foodbank. This was, I believe when things began to move forward.”

Although the charity had an army of volunteers, financial constraints were a concern.

“In the beginning, money was scarce, and there was always a worry if we could continue to afford the premises when we moved to Calvary Park,” said James.

However, both have paid tribute to “super fundraiser”, Nancy Fenton.

James added: “Nancy held a coffee morning and progressed from that to raising money by selling a wide variety of items online. The work she put in was phenomenal, as was the cash raised, but these efforts raised the profile of the foodbank as well. Her efforts gave us a very secure financial base which has provided some security as the Foodbank progresses.”

In addition, local churches, businesses, charities and individuals raised funds for the foodbank, usually on their own initiative.

And individuals have been making financial donations directly to the bank account via the website.

Francis added: “Donations of food, particularly through the local supermarket collection points, always continued at a high level, and shortages were only ever confined to a relatively few individual items. The generosity of the Peeblesshire community has been incredible.”

Reflecting on his days delivering food parcels to those in need, James said: “There were people, mainly those living alone, who I delivered to more than a few times. I rightly or wrongly felt that they found it difficult simply to cope with life in general, and the foodbank was essential to simply feed themselves.”

Ultimately, COVID and age marked the end of Francis and James’s incredible journey with the Peeblesshire Foodbank.

The Trussell Trust stood down everyone over the age of 70 years.

During the pandemic, one thing that’s brightened our lives has been the stories of the everyday heroes doing their bit to support people through these difficult days.

Together, these two selfless gentlemen worked tirelessly for several years making sure struggling families had a meal to put on the table.

They are the retiring heroes behind Peeblesshire Foodbank, who helped countless people.