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‘Our door is always open’ – How this man feeds thousands of hard-up families

PUBLISHED: 07:40 25 October 2018 | UPDATED: 08:17 29 October 2018

Mr Denny with all the food available at one of his Felixstowe pop-up shops this week. Picture: RACHEL EDGE

Mr Denny with all the food available at one of his Felixstowe pop-up shops this week. Picture: RACHEL EDGE

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As we launch a new campaign with the East of England Co-op to celebrate our community heroes, Felixstowe’s Graham Denny talks to us about his pop-up shop initiative helping thousands of Suffolk families.

Community Heroes logoCommunity Heroes logo

We have teamed up with the East of England Co-op to launch a new Community Heroes campaign, focusing on the efforts of those making a real difference to people’s lives.

The first hero to be featured in this series is Graham Denny, who started the charity BASIC Life and has been providing pop-up food shops as alternatives to foodbanks in Suffolk.

With a passion for his community, Mr Denny decided to set up BASIC (Business and Service in Christ) in 2000 with the simple idea of helping people in Felixstowe that were struggling to make ends meet.

What is BASIC?

The charity’s mission statement was a simple one – to enable people, irrespective of their race or religion, to be provided with the basics of life: shelter, food, education, recreation and spiritual guidance.

Queses of up to an hour can form outside the shops when they visit towns in Suffolk. Picture: RACHEL EDGEQueses of up to an hour can form outside the shops when they visit towns in Suffolk. Picture: RACHEL EDGE

It started as a small idea to provide food and shelter on an ad-hoc basis to people in need, but the response Mr Denny got when he started made it clear that there was more to be done than he had imagined.

After 18 years of hard work, his charity has grown into a valued fixture in his community in Felixstowe, with two shops in the town, and pop-up shops across the county every week.

Mr Denny said: “When we opened the doors of our first charity shop, we were keen to start conversations with customers and raise awareness about the shocking number of local people who are struggling to feed their families in Felixstowe.

“It was a real eye opener for a lot of people.

“Opening our first charity shop provided a first port of call for people that needed help with their bills or to pay for food, and they knew that our door was always open.”

Bags can be filled up for £1 per bag and the pop-up shops stock non-perishables. Picture: RACHEL EDGEBags can be filled up for £1 per bag and the pop-up shops stock non-perishables. Picture: RACHEL EDGE

How does it help people in the community?

Mr Denny was helping hundreds of people every year, but wanted to do more to help people that were struggling to pay for food.

The food donations he was making with BASIC were not reaching all the people in need in Felixstowe – so the charity started a food bank so that people could come directly to them.

Setting up collection boxes in Felixstowe for donations of canned or long-life food, he started getting referrals from social services, the Citizens Advice Bureau and housing associations.

Mr Denny said: “We were helping a lot of people with our foodbank but still only scratching the surface.

“I knew there were so many other people out there who felt too embarrassed to go through the protocols involved in accessing a formal foodbank, so we needed to make the whole process easier.”

Non-perishable items fill the church every week when BASIC Life's pop-up shop visits Felixstowe. Picture: RACHEL EDGENon-perishable items fill the church every week when BASIC Life's pop-up shop visits Felixstowe. Picture: RACHEL EDGE

That’s when the charities ‘pop-up shops’ came into existence – and they have been a hit ever since.

The pop-up shops and how they work

Local people queue for up to an hour at community hubs, with food laid out across tables and anyone welcome to come and pay £1 for a bag which they can fill up with food.

The shops in Suffolk are held at Trimley Free Church, St Francis Church in Ipswich and St Edmund’s Church and St Philip’s Church Hall in Felixstowe.

Mr Denny added: “No one is judged or assessed when they come to our shops, we simply welcome anyone who has a need for food.

Homeware and clothing can also be found at the pop-up shops. Picture: RACHEL EDGEHomeware and clothing can also be found at the pop-up shops. Picture: RACHEL EDGE

“Some people may only come and see us once because they are having a difficult month, others depend on us for weekly food, drink and toiletries over a period of time.”

One of these people was Marie Millett, who was so appreciative of the work done by and BASIC that she he enlisted as a volunteer for the charity.

Ms Millett said: “When I first moved to Felixstowe, I was going through some problems in my life and I needed support.

“I was pointed in the direction of BASIC, which really helped me keep my head above water.

“After receiving their support I wanted to give something back and decided to volunteer – Graham was incredibly supportive.”

All the food and clothing on offer is laid out and users can fill a bag with items for just £1. Picture: RACHEL EDGEAll the food and clothing on offer is laid out and users can fill a bag with items for just £1. Picture: RACHEL EDGE

How you can help

Graham has been supported through the East of England Co-ops foodbank collection scheme.

The East of England Co-op have foodbank collection points in every one of their food stores and supermarkets, collecting items for 23 independent and Trussell Trust foodbanks in local towns and villages across our region.

Get involved

Tell us about your community hero – email us with their details and up to 200 words about what they do.

The pop-up shop at St Edmund's Church is one of two weekly pop-up shops in Felixstowe. Picture: RACHEL EDGEThe pop-up shop at St Edmund's Church is one of two weekly pop-up shops in Felixstowe. Picture: RACHEL EDGE

For more information about BASIC Life, its volunteering opportunities and the pop up shops it provides, email them directly.

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