Activism

Volunteers form 'rapid response' force to support food banks in Scotland

The Scottish Tech Army, formed of more than 1,000 volunteers, is supporting food banks in Scotland in its latest project

Burnfoot, Hawick, Scottish Borders, UK. 24th April 2020. The Burnfoot Community Hub has seen demand more than double for free food from their Food Share resource since the UK lockdown began. The housing estate on the northern edge of Hawick is within the top 10 percent of deprivation across Scotland. Credit: Chris Strickland / Alamy Live News

More than 1,000 volunteers are providing technical support as a “rapid response” force for food banks and social projects in Scotland as the economic impact of the pandemic grows.

Formed at the height of the crisis, the Scottish Tech Army (STA) are using technology to help solve social issues as demand for and the number of people expected to access or donate to food banks increases.

“We’ve worked on about 150 different projects so far, on a very wide range of things from the food bank project, supporting the management of PPE in care homes, and supporting organisations that help vulnerable people such as the elderly, refugees, and dispersed communities,” said Alastair Forbes, the group’s founder.

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The STA recruits include staff placed on the furlough scheme from their regular jobs, to assemble a Covid-19 “rapid response” force and provide technical support to rebuild projects across Scotland.

And now, working with the Trussell Trust, the STA is rolling out technology to help Scottish foodbanks prepare for a rise in winter demand

A new database called Assemble has been set up by the volunteers and will allow managers of food banks in Scotland to organise shift patterns, rotas and communications online. 

The software will be rolled out to food banks in Edinburgh, Cupar, Aberdeenshire and Shetland before a wider launch across Scotland.

Forbes told the Big Issue it was hard to predict what the response would be when the STA was launched, but from the very first week, hundreds of people signed up to offer their expertise. 

“We’re certainly seeing the impact of the work we’ve been doing. We’ve got some fantastic feedback from organisations about the impact it’s made,” said Forbes.

“There’s an organisation we’ve worked with called Crossreach, a counselling service. They said that within 10 weeks we’d been able to help them achieve something they’d been trying to do for five years.” 

He says the pandemic has highlighted how organisations can use technology solutions to solve problems. 

“As well as seeing a lot of volunteers signing up, we’ve also seen a lot of organisations reaching out for help. They’re really struggling to cope with the demand for the services they’re offering.

“Food banks are a good example, there’s been a real upsurge in the need for that kind of service, and that’s where technology can help.”

Laura Ferguson, operations manager for Scotland at the Trussell Trust, added: “Covid-19 has led to a huge rise in the number of new people needing to use a food bank for the first time. This isn’t right.

“In the short term tools such as Assemble will help food banks in our network with administrative systems, allowing time to be freed up so teams can focus on helping people who need support the most.”

A recent analysis from the Trussell Trust warned that food banks could have to give out six food parcels every minute this winter, estimating a 61 per cent increase in the number of parcels that would be needed. 

Image credit: Chris Strickland / Alamy Live News

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