Food for thought: The 19-year-old entrepreneur on the food bank frontline
The Trussell Trust says there has been a two per cent increase in food bank usage on the previous year.
That may not sound like much but it equates to 1,109,309 three-day emergency food supplies given to people in crisis in 2015/16.
The main reason for food bank referrals was down to benefit delays, followed closely by low income and benefit changes. Money’s at the heart of the problem, yet the government has previously insisted that there is no link to welfare reforms and food bank usage.
Such a statement sounds like folly on the frontlines as 19-year-old Meredith Clements has discovered. Bebington’s self-styled entrepreneur has been busy building a diverse business portfolio since leaving sixth form at 17, with a food bank charity – EatRite – just one of her many projects.
“We’re concentrating solely on food drops for the homeless,” Meredith tells us. “Every Wednesday we have a team of volunteers that go out including a volunteer cook who makes homemade meals, ranging from stew, to soup to bolognese.
“It gets dropped off to homeless people and we help approximately 20 people a night. It’s over Liverpool way, the homeless community’s huge over there.
“We see a lot of it first-hand. They’re some of the humblest and grateful people around, it’s great to work with them and gives a good sense of fulfilment.”
Appealing for Clements-y
Predictably, Merseyside was named the food bank capital of the country in 2014 by The Trussell Trust, with the North West still leading the way in the latest figures (beating the entire Scottish nation).
The warnings are there. Volunteers and experts are adamant that food banks have now seeped into British culture and are silently becoming a part of everyday life. Alarmingly, the situation has become so extreme specialist food banks in Hartlepool are launching to feed children during the summer holidays.
Despite the government’s denials, Meredith is certain she knows where the problem lies. “I think the welfare system needs a good rewrite.
“Everyone’s recently been focusing on the referendum thinking that Britain has a huge immigration problem that needs addressing when there’s actually a huge poverty issue that by far outweighs immigration, but no-one wants to talk about it.
“I don’t think the welfare system’s been working for a while and no-one seems to see it or care. The homelessness issue needs addressing. It’s getting out of control, the help offered to the homeless is completely impractical and doesn’t work. I think focus also needs to be on the families who have to choose between heating their home or feeding their children.
“EatRite’s a long-term project. I think we need to look at why we even have food banks in the first place and why it is that people can’t afford basic foods.”
Thoughts backed up by The Guardian’s Patrick Butler who, while discussing Ken Loach’s upcoming film about the welfare state, I, Daniel Blake, points his finger toward the DWP and – more profoundly – the lack of any official crisis help for claimants during admin delays.
Meredith’s trying to make a difference as well as finding her feet in the tough world of entrepreneurship. It’s hard not to be impressed by her efforts. She’s active in the Forex markets, holds a share-based property portfolio and owns an interior design firm.
“I left school when I was 17,” she tells us. “The dream was always to go to medical school and qualify as a cardiologist. I think at one point I realised I didn’t want a 40-hour work week for the rest of my life doing the same thing everyday.
“I had to think then what it was I wanted to do. I decided I liked the idea of being self-employed; the financial security, freedom and self independence were what attracted me.
“I didn’t know what to do at first. I’ve always been creative and decided to do something with interior design. It was the right choice; it took off in the first few months. I run Hamford Interiors in Liverpool; we offer an innovative paper-based design service, it’s working.”
Perhaps it’s a generational thing. We’re coming across a lot more young entrepreneurs across the Wirral trying their hands in the world of business instead of going down the university route. Perhaps they’re priced out of it or perhaps, like Meredith, they’re discovering a stint in further education isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
“A lot of people ask about my age. When I started out I was on my first big quote, I’d just turned 18. I panicked when they asked how old I was and said 24!
“I thought it would be an issue with people thinking my age will mean I’m incompetent but since I’ve become more confident with it Its been working to my benefit, I’ve had so many lovely reviews and thank you cards from people saying they were blown away with how professional and knowledgeable I was given my age
“I think for some people university is worth it, say, if you’d like an academic career such as law or medicine, but the way I look at it a lot of parents think it’s the be-all and end-all and it’s not. It’s great aiming for uni but I think– looking from the outside in – is it even worth the debt people will face in, say, 10 years’ time.
“People have said why don’t you go back into education and pursue medicine or get a degree in design, I do think about it. I’ve been kicked out of a few interior design competitions for instance for not having a degree in it, but then I think I don’t need a degree or all the debt that comes with it to prove to people I’m good at what I do.
“I hope in five years’ time Ill have built up a strong property and stock portfolio have a good residual income. I’d also like to own a club or a pub. My goal is to build a business enterprise for myself but my main two were and always will be to be happy and financially secure.”