The demand for food bank services has greatly increased with the service provided by ARC Health Living Centre, in conjunction with Enniskillen Foodbank, just one example.

Jenny Irvine of ARC explained that the need for their service has been “growing week on week” and said that “people who donated to the foodbank before Christmas are now having to use it”.

The figures are stark in terms of the number of people availing of the service. Going back five weeks, 70 people used the service, one week later the figure was 100, a week after that 150, then 170 the following week and last Friday (May 15) 200 people used the foodbank.

“The work of the ARC centre has always been underpinned by the logo ‘Helping People to Help Themselves’. Traditionally much of the contribution to the food bank came from within the local community and often not from a deep well of resources, but from a deep well of compassion and recognition that we can and should help one another. There is strong evidence that this pandemic has revealed how quickly people can move from being self-sufficient to requiring support,” Mrs Irvine explained.

The Chief Executive Officer of ARC has noticed a difference in society and it is one she hopes that can become the norm long into the future: “I think people have become kinder, society as a whole. People are less quick to judge. We have always had a fantastic response from the community, but I think there is even more kindness now, and understanding, and compassion,” Mrs. Irvine explained.

She also explained that there have been additional effects on the community since the onset of the pandemic, particularly for some children and she is concerned that an already unequal situation for some will widen as a result of the pandemic: “One of saddest realities of the present situation is how health and educational inequalities are widening, we are particularly concerned about the lack of remote learning resources available to children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Success in education has been fundamental route out of poverty, but if you can’t participate due to financial or digital limitations that road is now closed. We have had limited success in trying to convince agencies to invest in our plan to purchase a library of equipment to be made available to children and families,” Mrs. Irvine explained.

Mrs. Irvine also explained that there was growing evidence of other types of poverty before Covid-19 and that these have been exacerbated by events recently: “The Handiheat project, which sits within the ARC’s service, has been examining the extent of fuel poverty over the last 18 months. It has become clear that for a number of reasons, even though the weather has been clement for much of the time, many households are using more fuel than normal and consequently facing higher bills than normal. This is largely due to people being at home more than normal, with heat and power demand increased. Others are facing significant reductions in their incomes. Children are not in school, adults not out at work, so there are more potential costs associated with regular living,” she said.

Looking to the future Mrs. Irvine says she does not “see us returning to normal for a long time”, while she also said that if something is to be gained from the current situation is that people look after themselves more: “I think people are beginning to see the benefits of really keeping themselves well, both mentally and physically. There will always be a need for services for the most vulnerable but across society if we can start to see that we need to take better care of ourselves then I think that will bring about a lot of positivity as we begin to get back to a new normal.”


Here is a message from one person to the Arc Healthy Living Centre after their family had received a food parcel.

“Just wanted to send a message to say thank you for our food hamper yesterday.

“Since we lost our jobs in March things have just got tighter and tighter financially to the point where things like orange squash and teabags are luxuries we don’t really buy anymore. Opening the hamper yesterday and finding these items along with chocolate goodies for the children and other essentials like cheese and beans and pasta caused such excitement for them and adults alike, it was like Christmas.

“It actually makes me quite emotional that people could be so kind to us at a time when life is so hard for everyone, I just can’t thank you all at Sure Start and the Arc enough.”