Going to the Food Bank

I started working at the Stroud Food Bank about 9 months ago.  I only work for about 2 hours a week and, usually, only to put away stock and to fulfil (i.e. pack up) orders for the Food Bank’s ‘clients’.  Some weeks I get a bit of extra arm stretching exercise by helping to deliver the (heavy and full) food bags to clients’ homes.

The location is in central Stroud and it operates as one of the outposts for the much larger warehouse, run by the The Trussell Trust, in Brimscombe, a couple of miles away.  In the year to March 2023, The Trussell Trust has delivered almost 3m emergency food parcels in the UK.  In Stroud district we delivered 8,663 of those – a huge 77% increase on the previous year.

Stroud Trinity Rooms Food Bank
Stroud Trinity Rooms Food Bank

Working at the Food Bank has been eye opening and educational around the everyday problems faced by people less fortunate than me.  Often, even with very little income, people learn to manage somehow but what brings them to the Food Bank is something unexpected – sometimes a seemingly small thing – that tips their well-being and ability to cope over the edge.  The pandemic, the war in Ukraine, the cost of living surge and the lack of a proper benefits safety net have all made that tipping over the edge more frequent.

To say I enjoy working at the Food Bank would be to undermine or trivialise these very real hardships but the couple of hours a week I spend there does feel worthwhile.  What is even better for me is that I am able to walk to the Food Bank (and get the bus back afterwards).  That walk has been especially lovely recently due to the advent of a lush Spring and the fortuitousness of good weather when I have to go to the Food Bank.

Ruskin Mill Lake Last Winter

The first 25 minutes of the walk is my normal route to our local town, Nailsworth.  I usually take the direct route along the road but even so, the views over Ruskin Mill’s valley are good and the birdsong at that time in the morning is loud and continuous.  Once in town, I pick up my newspaper and then set out to Stroud along two old railway routes now converted to cycling and walking paths. 

I love the variety along this route. 

Egypt Mill – Now A Popular Bar, Restaurant And Hotel (Deserted At This Time In The Morning)

The first part follows Nailsworth Stream and is dominated by mills and their associated mill ponds.  This is perhaps where bird life and nature along the route are most evident. 

The path then squeezes between vineyards, woodlands and fields on one side and a string of light industrial buildings on the other.  These buildings include a micro-brewery, a pizza factory and numerous engineering works alongside which I sometimes pause to watch the drama of welding sparks.  Then the birdsong is drowned out by the canine users of a large Playschool for Dogs.  I’ve never seen so many dogs in one place!

Under-Bridge Street Art On My Route

I walk under bridges covered in frequently changing street art.  Then I go past a factory making wind turbines and another associated with Forest Green Rovers Football Club’s Chairman called The Devil’s Kitchen which makes vegan meals for the football club and for schools nationally. 

The path runs alongside the main road for a while but from here there are great views up towards Rodborough Common.  Past the old and now converted Woodchester Railway Station, there is a new large residential development and its associated children’s playground before the walk returns to another leafy section.

One Of Several Very Large Oaks Along The Way (The Birdsong Is Usually Intense Around Here)

The woods continue on one side but on the other are acres of factories, some of which now appear disused and ripe for some sort of development.  Most are ugly mass-constructed buildings but some are attractive, Victorian buildings that have new lives as auction houses and bases for hi-tech businesses. 

One Of The More Impressive Factory Blocks

One of the largest and newest of these industrial buildings is the factory which produces Damien Hirst’s art works.  Some of his old works from his Human Anatomy series stand behind the factory and are visible from the path.

Damien Hurst’s Works Partly Obscured By Trees

The route I take then passes briefly through a housing estate and joins another old railway route on the final leg into Stroud.  This is in a deep, old railway cutting which shields walkers from the surrounding houses and roads and then passes over the River Frome and Stroudwater Canal. 

Tree Lined Walks With (If You Look Carefully) Deer And Old Railway Line Infrastructure
River Frome At Stroud

By this time my breakfast coffee intake needs attention so I dive into the recently re-modelled shopping centre before heading up through the town to the Food Bank.  The shopping centre itself is a mixed bag of street food outlets, depressingly empty up-market clothes and accessories shops, and discount goods outlets.  It’s a strange mix of businesses.  Even the large and prominent jewelers in the centre is a strange mix of expensive watches, jewelry and garish ornaments. 

Not For Me But People Must Like These Ornaments Given Their Surprisingly High Prices

In a way, the diversity of the shopping centre, and that of the stock of the jeweler’s shop within it, reflects the unusualness of Stroud and the surrounding district.  It has a left wing, ‘woke’, hippy vibe with one of the best Farmers Markets and (arguably) the country’s first fully organic cafe (Woodruffs).  But it is also very much a grounded, working town surrounded by historical and current wealth.  It is a blend that is also reflected, perhaps, among the mix of ‘clients’ and volunteers at the Food Bank.

Places to Go, Things to Do

Our three sons came from Edinburgh, Bristol and Belfast to stay with us to attend Jane’s Mum’s funeral and then my birthday brunch.  The funeral was very well attended and passed flawlessly, peacefully and movingly.  My birthday was low key but very enjoyable.  It was great to have all three sons in one place for the first time for a while, to hear them banter with each other, and to chat to.

Beautiful Funeral Flowers

Two of them asked, independently, what on earth I fills my time in retirement.  I’m not sure I was entirely candid about my occasional post-lunch snoozes or the rather excessive amount of time I spend looking at my mobile phone – though they are also fairly guilty of the latter so they would understand.  But what struck me once again as I tried to answer is how busy my life still seems to be. 

The routine of walking to the nearest town for the daily shopping and the newspaper, reading that newspaper and the weekly Economist magazine, preparing lunch and (50% of the time) dinner, all takes up hours of relatively relaxed time.  I spend up to a day a week in local climate action and other village activities and another half a day at the Stroud Foodbank.  I have recently inserted an hour or two of gardening into the routine (not enough, but it’s a start) partially at the cost of my frequent walks around the local countryside that usually constitute my main exercise.

Peak Bluebells And Wild Garlic

The early evenings comprise of the ‘Quick Crossword’ over a cup of tea and/or visits to the local pub.  Later, we watch streamed TV series (we tend to gravitate to dark European crime thrillers) and then its time for the BBC News, 15 minutes reading in bed and sleep. 

So, even in weeks without trips to Edinburgh or funerals to attend (and there have been two in the last month unfortunately), I feel pretty occupied.  How did I fit 10 hours a mid-week day on work?  It was interesting to hear Middle Son start to feel the same way now he has given up his job for a bit of downtime before a ‘gap-month’ travelling in Columbia.  He too seems to have found that available time just gets filled with activity.  In retirement, those activities are mainly non-urgent and discretionary; suits me!

Our trip to Edinburgh last month to see First Grandchild (FG) and his parents was as rewarding as usual.  FG is discovering the desire to exert control and is developing a temper, a willingness to do things but only at his pace and when he is ready, and a sense of humour.  Its lovely to see his development in the videos we are sent but even more so face to face.  Maybe I just lack the recall power but I think work got in the way of appreciating all of this in my own children at FG’s age.

The Splendid Roof Of The Scottish National Museum’s Main Hall

As usual, taking FG out to the National Museum of Scotland, to the Royal Botanic Garden and to the local playgrounds were highpoints during our Edinburgh trip.  It’s wonderful to see that everything through his eyes is so new and something to learn about. 

Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh: Rhododendrons Out In April!

However, there were many other treats amid the hospitality offered by Eldest Son and his wife and the fun of being with FG.  Jane and I walked to Leith where I bought her birthday present in advance and with her close guidance.  On the way back we stopped off at Spry, our favourite wine bar in the city. 

We also visited the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art to see an exhibition of Alberta Whittle’s work.  We had seen an exhibition by her in Bath a few months earlier which we had enjoyed.  However, although the exhibition in Edinburgh was much broader in ambition, neither of us enjoyed the individual works so much this time.

‘Taking A Leap Toward The Ancestors’ By Alberta Whittle (2022)

Our cultural immersion while in Edinburgh continued with a brief stop at the private The Scottish Gallery (mainly to see some pretty floral paintings by Angie Lewin) before exceeding all our daily steps targets by crossing the city again to visit the Dovecot Studios.  This was a real highlight.

Part of the Kaffe Fassett ‘Power Of Pattern’ Exhibition

Not only was there an excellent exhibition of textiles by and inspired by Kaffe Fassett called ‘The Power of Pattern’, but the tapestry studios themselves were fascinating.  I was only vaguely familiar with Kaffe Fassett but I loved a lot of the work on show here – mainly because of the vibrancy of the colour – and I learned a lot about his philosophy, way of working and his collaborations with others. 

Close-ups Of Quilted and Tapestry Works By Kaffe Fassett And Followers

The tapestry studios at Dovecote are restored and re-purposed swimming baths that were part of the now defunct infirmary.  The space is airy and dramatic.  The floor – what presumably was the bottom of the swimming pool – is an art space that is currently occupied by a series of looms of varying sizes and types.  Each contained part-finished tapestries that suggested the huge effort that has to go into each.  Upstairs, completed tapestries illustrating various techniques and styles are on display.  We really enjoyed the experience.

Dovecot Studios

To round out the cultural aspect of our Edinburgh trip, I also managed an hour or so in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.  The entrance hall is stunning and I wanted to see that again.  Inside there was no special exhibition this time but the permanent displays – especially the modern section – were interesting enough.

The Scottish National Portrait Gallery Atrium

The Scottish National Portrait Gallery: Two Unusual, Medical Portraits (By Ken Currie)

Back home we have been enjoying an admittedly rather wet spring.  The wild garlic, bluebells and cow parsley adorn the lanes and the woods.  In the garden, the daffodils, the amelanchier and most of the tulips have been and gone but there are allium flower heads about to burst and green shoots everywhere.  In our lush and green field cum orchard, the cowslips and wild geraniums have proliferated and our eyes are peeled for orchids.

Exotic Garden Tulips And Perfect Apple Blossom

A recent visit to The Ethicurean with Middle Son and his partner for Sunday lunch included a wander around the gardens that provide many of the vegetable ingredients for the cooking.  The lunch itself was multi-course but much more than a tasting menu; it was really imaginative, tasty and filling, and delivered at a perfectly slow pace in the gorgeous surroundings of a converted Victorian greenhouse.  We’ll go again.

The Rather Wonderful The Ethicurean Restaurant

Since then, rather inspired by The Ethicurean’s gardens, I have made progress in clearing most of the vegetable patches, planting beetroot, chard, onions and potatoes and getting bean, courgette and squash seeds on the go. 

This year I have applied a method Jane used for some of her flower seeds to the germination of the beans seeds I recovered from my last two harvests.  Instead of popping them in composted seed trays, I put them between two sheets of wet kitchen roll and put the result in zip lock plastic bags.  I left the bags on the floor of our kitchen which has underfloor heating and, lo and behold, I had a 100% success rate for germination! 

My (Janes!) New Ziplock Plastic Bag Method Of Seed Germination

I have transferred the germinated beans to the small pots and now hope they will grow on with, unlike previous years, zero seed wastage.  Success in a busy retirement schedule is sweet!