‘People at Eastbourne Foodbank tell me that I inspire them, but I honestly don’t think I do.’
The very modest words of Eastbourne’s very own Mr Howard Wardle – or as of now Mr Howard Wardle MBE.
He received the honour in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List for his work in the community since he first came to Eastbourne with his family back in 1991.
Quite simply, Howard has made a huge difference – which explains why he is such a popular and influential individual.
Howard recalls: “I was sitting in the office in the morning when the phone rang and it was the Cabinet Office, asking me for my email address.
“It came as complete shock and they called back at 2pm to ask if I was happy to accept an award which of course I was.”
Howard recalls how Eastbourne Foodbank was set up in June 2011, which at the time was the 99th across the country. Now there are more than 500 centres.
“I was working for a community church on the Bridgemere Estate, and I set up a debt project which involved taking people shopping because they had no money. The demand was overwhelming.
The church bought the Foodbank franchise for Eastbourne, and then in 2012, it became an independent charity.
We were offered a building in Cornfield Lane, and we were there until December 2018. Originally, we had agreed to only use one room in that building but very soon we were completely overflowing.
We had to leave those premises three and a half years ago due to redevelopment and we honestly thought we may have to close due to lack of a suitable building. Fortunately, we found our current warehouse site in Brampton Road which was perfect.”
Demand is growing and last year Eastbourne Foodbank supported 16,500 people – a rise of 1,000 from the previous year. That’s around 165,000 meals provided to people in need.
Howard says that poverty is often very hidden and knows that there are many more people who need help and support. It’s quite worrying that foodbank is still not reaching them.
“For many, they are in difficult situations because the benefits level is too low and housing costs are too high.
There is no such thing as food poverty – the issue is that people simply can’t afford to buy it.
Just giving people food is not the long-term answer – that’s why we ask questions when our clients come in.
Sometimes asking those questions can make some very wary and anxious. We want to help them, not just by feeding them but by finding longer term solutions and at times we have to ask some difficult questions.”
“Some have described Foodbanks as ‘sticking plasters’ rather than a permanent solution. A ‘sticking plaster’ of food helps the immediate problem and gives us time to find a proper solution”
There are now nine centres across Eastbourne, with a strong emphasis on South Langney, Willingdon Trees, Devonshire ward and The Hydneye in Hampden Park. Advocacy and debt advisers are always on hand.
Howard said: “Eating food obviously keeps us alive but it’s not the long-term solution to poverty. We can’t address the huge issue of poverty in the town on our own, and we will always work with others with the same objectives to see social justice and equality”
So why was he singled out for an MBE?
“People tell me what I do is an inspiration, but I genuinely do not believe that.
“I provide the vision and we have a brilliant, committed friendly staff and volunteer team with a strong ethos of teamwork all wanting to make a difference.
“It was total disbelief when I received the email from the Cabinet Office. Of course, I am pleased and very proud.”
This feature appears on page 5 of the July magazine