Meet the volunteers - Mel, Gill, Stephen and Project Coordinator Grant Cockerill

The volunteers who give families £25 of food for just a fiver amid cost-of-living crisis

Wyndham Street Pantry, which tackles food waste and poverty, is seeing more and more people coming through its doors

A STREET pantry in Cardiff offers a week’s worth of groceries, which is estimated to cost over £25, for as little as £5 – and says it’s busier than ever.

Run almost entirely by volunteers, Wyndham Street Pantry in south Riverside provides its members with fresh fruit and vegetables, fresh bread and cakes along with store cupboard essentials and a wide range of frozen foods.

Volunteers Mel, Gill, Stephen and Project Coordinator Grant (from left to right)

Managed by the South Riverside Community Development Centre, the pantry opened in May 2020 with the aim of providing and delivering food to people self-isolating during COVID.

However, project coordinator Grant Cockerill, of Penarth, has noticed a significant increase in members since the cost-of-living crisis hit Cardiff.

“In a way it’s moved straight into cost-of-living,” he said. “There’s been a 50% increase in members this year. At Christmas last year, we had about 40 people a week and now it’s 60. There’s an awful lot of people on the books, it’s just over 600 people, but they don’t all come every week.

“It’s now developed into something important for the community.

“All of our volunteers definitely think more people will join over the winter period. Not just join and become a member, but they will actually come weekly too. Even now, food shopping is noticeably double or more what it was a year or two ago and especially coming up to Christmas. It’s really noticeable.”

Members of Wyndham Street Pantry can choose from a range of things in their weekly shop.

The pantry, which has now received funding to open as a warm hub, has also started hosting live cooking demonstrations where the volunteers show recipes and explain to members how to cook certain food they may not usually come across.

“People can’t afford to buy fresh vegetables, let alone for a family of four. Whereas here it’s possible. They get stuff here that they wouldn’t buy in a shop usually because it’s far too expensive.

“We recently had our first live cooking demonstration where we showed how you can use leftover vegetables to make vegetable bhajis. We’re intending to have more of those demonstrations. It’s all about showing people how to use foods they’re not familiar with.

“On one occasion, we were showing a recipe and a woman said ‘the thing is, I’ve only got a kettle to cook with’. We then set out how to try and figure out how she can cook a meal with what she had.”

A group of four or five volunteers run the pantry every Tuesday from 1pm to 6pm and Wednesday from 10am to 2pm.  

The bulk of the produce is supplied by Fareshare Cymru, a charity that redistributes excess food from across the food industry to tackle food waste. Brød, Alex Gooch and Coop also provide the pantry with high-end baked goods. The pantry is also given vegetables seasonably from Grangetown Growers and an allotment in Fairwater.

St Peter’s Community Garden from Fairwater, show the produce they delivered to the pantry.

Gill, one of the dedicated volunteers, started visiting the pantry when she was told about it by a friend. She believes that not many people are aware that the pantry exists, and if they are, they are too afraid to come along.

“Obviously we have enough people to get our 60 a week, but there’s people in the street who say that they never knew that this pantry existed until they met someone who told them about it,” she said. “Although we do hand out flyers, or go on the radio, it’s very much word of mouth that brings people here.

“We live around the corner, and we never knew it was here.

“When I first heard about the pantry, my husband didn’t want us to go. He was worried that we’d take food away from people who were worse off. After my first visit, I couldn’t believe it – you can get so much for £5. It really puts things into perspective and makes you think twice. This was something we had never heard about before.

“My husband now loves it here and I’ve never looked back.”

The pantry offers fresh fruit and vegetables, fresh bread and cakes along with store cupboard essentials and a wide range of frozen foods.

Due to the relaxed atmosphere, after a few months of shopping, Gill decided to become a volunteer. “It’s so rewarding, you know you’re helping people. What’s there not to like?”

“You could have a family come in with nothing and you think to yourself when they leave – well at least they have something now. They can eat for the next week,” she said.

Volunteers say they enjoy helping and get a lot out of it.

“I suffer from anxiety and depression and to me it makes me feel better that I can help other people,” said Stephen, who was about to start his first day of volunteering at the pantry. “It keeps my mind occupied and allows me to do something good. It’s really important to me.”

However, many volunteers are concerned that people aren’t coming because they worry they are not entitled to do so.

“There’s still a huge stigma where people feel that they’re not allowed,” said Mel, another weekly-shopper-turned-volunteer. “Our main aim is to make everyone comfortable.”

Gill added: “A lot of people believe that this pantry is a foodbank, and believe that they aren’t entitled to it, so they won’t come. When they find out that it’s not and that it’s for anyone and everyone – we’re finding that more people are coming,”

There is also an option where clients can pay for two shops and pay the second shop forward to help another person.

Grant explained: “It wasn’t the pantry’s suggestion – people just started wanting to do it. In fact my mum has decided to pay for a handful of meals this year rather than buying and sending Christmas Cards.”

Cardiffian Reporters Poppy and Lucy with their £5 shop

Grant explained that due to the stigma around food poverty, he tries to make the pantry a welcoming and comforting environment.

“We try and be as friendly and open as possible with people, once you see that it’s a chilled, welcoming environment, it makes people okay with coming back again. That’s a really important aspect for us.”

Mel added: “If the experience is a nice one when they’re a member, they might think about joining as a volunteer – you have to make it a place where people want to come back to.”

Grant added: “You’ve got to be sensitive and welcoming. You can’t judge someone because they may look like they’re well off. Deep down they might not be able to feed their family. At the end of the day, as long as they go away with food for the next few days, that’s all that matters.

“Without this place, people have told us, it would be really hard for them to manage their bills and stay in their homes.”

Wyndham Street Pantry is also open as a warm space and is welcome to all – even those who might not want to shop.

Roberta Meredydd, who is a governor at Radnor Road School, has been a regular member of Wyndham Street Pantry and hopes more people will get involved in the group.

“It’s wonderful,” she said. “I’ve been coming here for a good year. It’s definitely changed my life – I’m on a teacher’s pension, and it really helps the week’s shop so much. There’s always something to eat here.

“I’d recommend this to everyone. I have been recommending it to the school – so hopefully it’ll help the parents out.”

The pantry is available to anyone across Cardiff as members come from Pontcanna, Canton, Riverside, Tremorfa, Ely and Fairwater.

FareShare will not be delivering produce over the Christmas period, however Wyndham Street Pantry have decided, for the first time, to open on December 27 and share any food left over.

For more information on Wyndham Street Pantry, or to find a Pantry near you, click here.