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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 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.
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.
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.