After years spent operating from various temporary locations throughout the town including church halls, community centres and even volunteers’ kitchens, Washington Community Food Project has found a permanent new home at the Galleries Shopping Centre, just in time for Christmas.

The move comes on the back of a longstanding partnership between The Galleries and its owners, M&G Real Estate, and the independent charity that operates the foodbank. For more than three years, the centre has helped to promote the foodbank, working alongside stores including ASDA, Sainsbury’s, M&S Simply Food, Aldi and Greggs and reaching out to the 12.5m shoppers visiting the centre each year to invite donations.

However, earlier this year the foodbank faced an uncertain future due to the loss of its main storage facility. M&G Real Estate swiftly stepped in, offering a temporary storage space at The Galleries to allow the foodbank to maintain operations, and it has now gone one step further identifying a shop unit, which it has offered up as a permanent home for the foodbank.

M&G Real Estate has undertaken works to the former shop, renovating and decorating it to create a clean, warm, comfortable environment for the charity to continue its invaluable work. Keys to the store were handed over last month and the foodbank now has the ideal rent-free space to provide local people with a helping hand in times of need.

Greg Chisholm, Asset Manager of The Galleries for M&G Real Estate, said: “As a responsible property investor, we believe firmly that we should enrich the lives of our customers and the communities we operate in. The Galleries plays a pivotal role at the heart of the Washington community and, as landlord, we are proud to support this dedicated charity in its efforts to help local people facing difficult times.”

David McNee, centre manager at the Galleries, said: “We have worked with the volunteers over the last few years to drive much-needed donations for our local foodbank which has seen a huge increase in demand for its invaluable service. Bringing them into the shopping centre was not only the right thing to do but also a way of giving them a greater profile in the community which, in turn, will help to raise donations further and reduce stigma.”

Clive Bowman, chair of Washington Community Food Project, said: “People often come to us as a last resort by which time they have no money, heating or food and desperation forces them to visit us. Without help it would be impossible for us to deliver the service which we are managing at present. Working with the team at the Galleries over the last few years has helped to raise awareness of our charity and the services that we offer.

“The Galleries is at the heart of the Washington community and we are ideally placed near the likes of Gentoo and Citizens Advice to offer help to those that have been referred to us as well as increasing awareness of our services. We are extremely grateful to the team at the Galleries for their support and to M&G Real Estate for their kindness in providing the foodbank with a new home and for funding the refurbishments so that we can move straight in.”

The Washington Community Foodbank Project at The Galleries was launched by Sharon Hodgson, Labour Party candidate for Washington and Sunderland West, who added: “It is deeply tragic that years of austerity cuts mean that so many families across our communities have to rely upon foodbanks.

“In the fifth richest economy in the world, foodbanks, like Washington Foodbank, should not be a reality in modern society, but I am grateful to them for providing this important service to local people who are struggling and to those who donate food and their time to the foodbank.

“I hope that moving the foodbank to The Galleries will improve everyone’s awareness of the foodbank and accessibility of the foodbank for those who need it.”

The Washington Community Food Project can now be found on the first floor opposite Virgin Money in the Galleries Shopping Centre.