Volunteers at a Newcastle foodbank will be getting their hands dirty to increase the variety of produce it can supply to local families thanks to a four-figure grant from the North East’s biggest building society.

The Newcastle West End Foodbank is one of the UK’s busiest foodbanks and offers emergency food assistance to people in the west end of the city, which is one of the region’s most economically and socially deprived areas.

In order to support healthy eating amongst those who use its services, the Foodbank last year created a kitchen garden at the Lillia Centre on Benwell Road, with the work done by a team of volunteers and some of the charity’s clients.

Newcastle Building Society has given the charity a £3,000 grant through its flagship Northumberland Street branch in the city, enabling the foodbank to install a large, well-equiped greenhouse on the site to extend the garden’s growing season and provide an even wider range of fresh produce.

The greenhouse was put in place over the winter months, and once the team is able to get back into the garden after the Covid-19 outbreak subsides, new crops including peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers will be planted out.

John McCorry, CEO at Newcastle West End Foodbank, says: “The garden offers so much more than fresh food for our kitchen – it’s a social space where everyone can work together, share stories and take collective pride in what’s being created.

“It’s been a real success over the last year and having the greenhouse in place will enable us to do so much more in the future.

“There’s no way we could have made this happen without Newcastle Building Society’s generous backing and it’s a facility that will make a huge difference to what we can offer for years to come.

“Everything’s ready to go as soon as our team can get back out into the garden and we’re excited at the prospect of what we’ll be able to do, as well as grateful for the help that our neighbours are providing at the moment.”

At the moment, one of the Foodbank’s regular donors who lives nearby has organised a rota of her neighbours to drop into the garden and look after what’s there, including a recent donation of flowers and vegetable seedlings from Cowells Garden Centre in Woolsington which have been placed in the greenhouse.

Pauline Baldwin, manager at Newcastle Building Society’s Northumberland Street branch, adds: “The West End Foodbank makes a massive difference to the lives of so many people in our home city who are facing very challenging circumstances and its role is going to become even more important in the coming months.

“Playing an active part in supporting our communities is a core part of who we are and we’re very proud to have helped the Foodbank’s greenhouse plans become a reality.”

The funding for the greenhouse has been provided by the Newcastle Building Society Community Fund at the Community Foundation, which offers grants to charities and community groups located in or around the communities served by the Society’s branch network, and put forward for support by its customers.

Founded in 2013, Newcastle West End Foodbank is a registered charity and provides food parcels that feed over 30,000 people every year, with referrals being made by care professionals and other local agencies.

It also works in partnership with specialist agencies to help people overcome the often-complex underlying problems that have led to them needing the foodbank, such as household debt, worklessness, risk of homelessness, addiction and not claiming full benefit entitlements.

The kitchen garden includes several raised beds, wheelchair accessible paths and composting bins, and before the pandemic occurred, the local co-ordinator of the National Trust’s Green Academies Project visited it to run an advice session for garden volunteers on how to grow crops under cover.

Since its launch in 2016, Newcastle Building Society’s Community Fund has contributed over £1.8m in grants and partnerships with the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation and the Princes Trust. The grants are so far estimated to have had a positive impact on more than 151,000 people.

The Newcastle Building Society Community Fund is run in association with the Community Foundation Tyne & Wear and Northumberland.