The arctic blast that turned the UK into a frozen tundra the past week might have been a pretty sight for some, but for millions around the country, the cold is making the hunger even more unbearable.
Ian Byrne, Labour MP for Liverpool West Derby, co-founded Fans Supporting Foodbanks in 2015 and the mobile food pantry is now more important than ever.
With the cost of living and hunger crisis, high energy bills and freezing temperatures, Byrne told Mersey Sport Live that though he is hopeful fans will continue to donate, there is one important thing everyone should remember: “We should never have foodbanks,” he said.
“We should never have fans collecting food. It’s a perfect example of a system that is completely broken.”
Thanks for visiting our initiative yesterday @anthonygordon the mobile Pantry is something we devised as a viable alternative to #Foodbanks, one that empowers local communities & removes the stigma associated with food Insecurity. Its about #Respect #Dignity & the #RightToFood https://t.co/KmBDJNnoQB
— FANS SUPPORTING FOODBANKS #RightToFood (@SFoodbanks) December 16, 2022
Byrne leads the ‘Right To Food’ Campaign in Parliament. The initiative’s aim is to make access to food a legal right for all.
In January 2021, Liverpool became the first ‘Right To Food City’ in the UK after the council unanimously called for Right To Food to be incorporated in the National Food Strategy.
Byrne acknowledges the importance of foodbanks but believes it is equally important to continue the fight to get his point across to government: “What we’ve got to do is just galvanise the movement in every city and every town. People are demanding that. They’re refusing to be hungry anymore.”
Just two weeks ago, he probed Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak on the matter. Said Byrne: “I’d already had experience with Sunak as a chancellor where I continued to ask him about right to food, universal free school meals and doing something substantial to change people’s lives. I got nowhere with him as chancellor because he wouldn’t listen.”
Every child from 5 to 18 should get a breakfast & dinner supplied by the state so they can reach their full potential.
It’s an investment in the future of our children & in local communities.
Never forget hunger is a political choice.#RightToFood #UniversalFreeSchoolMeals pic.twitter.com/MurxbfuXOi
— lan Byrne MP (@IanByrneMP) December 13, 2022
FAns Supporting Foodbanks came about after Byrne was at a local community centre near his home in Anfield and saw a huge line of people. What he thought was a line for bingo turned out to be a queue of people at a foodbank.
The foodbank ran on donations and Byrne noticed the rations being given out were pitiful. He said: “We went home that night and it led to sleepless nights. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. The idea came for football fans to donate a tin every game. That was in 2015.”
This led to the start of Fans Supporting Foodbanks, which Byrne started with Everton fans Dave Kelly and Robbie Daniels. The MP who lives in Stockbridge Village said: “Supporters have the power to unite communities and they have the power to divide communities. We use Fans Supporting foodbanks to bring people together and utilise that unifying power. What we say is hunger doesn’t wear club colours.”
Huge thank you to everyone who brought items along for @SFoodbanks today and to @LFCWFoodbank for helping with the collections! 👏🏻#HungerDoesntWearClubColours #YNWA #RightToFood #WeAreLiverpool pic.twitter.com/vE1nyopGV1
— Liverpool FC Women Supporters Club (@LFCWSC) November 27, 2022
While Fans Supporting Foodbanks does not carry its own food, the group devised a mobile pantry, collecting foods for local infrastructures. Over 35% of foods collected in the city comes from football fans.
Byrne said that one of his proudest moments was when Rangers and Celtic fans came together in Glasgow to donate to their cause. “It was a powerful statement,” he said.
Football is not the only sport that brings people together. Earlestown Cricket Club, together with students from Newton College, held their Foodbank Open Day on Friday. The arctic temperatures only stiffened their resolve.
Club Chairman, John Allan said: “We are sat in a freezing pavilion with frozen pipes, but our community spirit is undaunted. We have endeavoured to provide assistance to as many community groups locally as possible over the years, as we are a community club.”
You don’t have to spend a fiver to make a difference, a bag of pasta, a tin of soup, anything. If we all support this event we can make a massive difference to a family at Christmas. Thanks 💙🏏#etown #community #foodbank pic.twitter.com/ptnl6rQSCq
— Earlestown CC (@EarlestownCC) December 15, 2022
The Cricket Club, based in Newton-le-Willows, has been collecting for foodbanks for the past four years.
Allan said: “We are very confident about the local support even in these adverse weather conditions. We feel that people are starting to rely on our efforts, and we don’t care what the weather does. We are all determined to make a massive difference in our community.”
Earlestown CC are also set to support their local rotary club on their Christmas float and collect donations which will be distributed equally amongst community groups. Said Allan: “All our members are included in local charity projects and our reputation is growing every month, it’s such a pleasure to be chairman of such a positive group.”
Sport has time and time again proven to be more than just a game as it has often come together to transform society. Byrne, who is also a lifelong Liverpool fan, simply hopes the system which leaves four million children and 10 million people in total unable to put food on the table, changes sooner rather than later.