The manager of Enniskillen Foodbank estimates that he and his team have given away 2,048 parcels of food since April to hungry people in County Fermanagh.

Behind all those parcels are stories of families and individuals who are living hand-to-mouth and from pay slip to pay slip.

The foodbank serves people of all ages, from young families right up to pensioners, and John Shades and his team hear harrowing stories every week, including a rise in what he describes as the “working poor”.

“We had a woman came in, and she was embarrassed because she’s a professional person. Her husband had been working and he ended up long-term sick, and therefore he lost his job.

“They then only had one income coming in, and had to go from having two really good incomes to just one, with three kids at home as well, said Mr. Shades, explaining one of the cases he has seen.

He estimates that 27 per cent of people who get parcels from the foodbank are the working poor – people working hard, but whose incomes can’t keep pace with the cost of living.

“There is a definite need right across the board, and just because people live in a rural location doesn’t mean they’ve escaped the poverty trap.

“There are a lot of people and they’re overlooked or forgotten, and there’s definitely a need even among the people that work in [the] agricultural [sector].

“A lot of those people are struggling as well; we have seen people from that kind of background coming to us as well,” he said.

However, Mr. Shades believes that his team are only “scratching the surface” of poverty in the county.

“I think there is a whole pile of people that we’ve not even found because they are too embarrassed to come here.”

Mr. Shades, who has run the foodbank since 2011, believes that this year’s demand will outstrip what the foodbank gave away last year.

He said: “If it keeps going the way it is, we will smash last year. We never thought we would beat the year before that – it was busy, and last year we were busier.

“If it keeps going the way it is at the moment, then we’ll be way over. It’s increased exponentially every year.”

Statistics provided by Mr. Shades record that including Christmas hampers, the foodbank gave out 5,200 parcels in 2022/23.

The foodbank work with 79 agencies and supports people of all ages, “There are young people, like young single mums or young couples coming in. We do a lot of stuff for Action for Children, who will send people to us, age 17 and 18.

“I have noticed that we have got this wee group of pensioners who come in, and their biggest fear was the price hike with the electric, and they were all worried.

“They’re concerned about the amount of money they are spending on electricity every week,” added Mr. Shades.


Foodbank Enniskillen.

Foodbank Enniskillen.


The foodbank has locations in Enniskillen, Newtownbutler, Irvinestown and Belleek, and each week these locations have people coming to them seeking emergency food.

Explaining why they have various locations across Fermanagh instead of at a central location, John said: “In the cost-of-living crisis, you can’t expect everybody to come in to Enniskillen, and so that’s why we do Enniskillen, Newtownbutler, Belleek and Irvinestown.

“We cannot expect people to come from Enniskillen to collect a bag of groceries and then go back, and it’s not cheap either. Even if you go by public transport, it’s a good few pounds on the bus.”

He referred to one family who were supported by the foodbank, who proved fundamental in the decision to have a multi-location foodbank.

“We had a family who had come in from Newtownbutler into Enniskillen to go to a supermarket to do their shopping, and they were getting a taxi, and it was costing them £40 every trip so they did it every fortnight when they got their money.

“But then, they came and they told us the whole thing, and said ‘Can we get the foodbank stuff today as well, and then that will help us for the

next two weeks’.”

When asked if he believes a return to the Northern Ireland Executive would help those who are supported by the foodbank, Mr. Shades said: “Economically, the country’s on its knees, and the money’s there [to assign to help].

“Nobody is there who will sit in a room together and say, ‘Right, the money needs to be distributed to this and this and this’.”

He also discussed the axing of the holiday food bank payments scheme in March – a scheme used by many to combat ‘holiday hunger’.

“The whole thing with children over the summer – people a couple of years ago were getting the money to cover the school dinners, and that stopped this year.

“But it was continued on in other parts of the UK. Why’d it stop here? Because there’s nobody to sit [in the Executive] and come up to an agreement, and say, ‘We need to have that happening in Northern Ireland as well’.”

Calling the current situation an emergency, Mr. Shades added: “One of the things that it says on our banner is it’s emergency food, so you’ve got the emergency services, and now you have to get emergency food, and, in this day and age, that shouldn’t be the case.”