I wear two hats when I write this blog of mine. First and foremost, I manage a small charity in a small Scottish town called Dumfries. Ours is a front door that opens onto the darker corners of the crumbling world that is Britain 2015. We hand out 5000 emergency food parcels a year in a town that is home to 50,000 souls. Then, as you can see from all of the book covers above, I am also a thriller writer. If you enjoy the blog, you might just enjoy the books. The link below takes you to the whole library in the Kindle store. They can be had for a couple of quid each.

Saturday, January 28, 2023



This is going to be something of a nuts and bolts blog. A logistics blog.

So I guess the best plan of attack is to keep things short and snappy. Honed down. To the point.

So Frankland, you have your remit. Crack on.

The problems of January 2023 are well enough documented. In a nutshell, millions of us turn ashen faced when our smart meter breaks the news of how much it has just cost us to boil a kettle. Tick Tock are running an advert suggesting we stash away any boiling water we don't need for the cup in a waiting flask. All boiled and ready for next time. Watch the pennies....

Like a bunch of nostalgic lemmings, it seems we are creating our very own 2023 version of 1942 without the air raids and genocide.


So. Some nuts and some bolts. Some problems to solve.

Up until a week ago, I would deliver 20 food parcels to Gretna library every three weeks or so. Suddenly they now need 20 a week. Every week. Maybe it will be 30 in a couple of months time.

Problem 1.

Demand for emergency food parcels seems to have more or less doubled over night.

Problem 2.

Dumfries got hit by the worst flooding in fifty years a couple of weeks ago and our basement was turned into a swimming pool. We lost a lot of food but it wasn't a complete disaster.

The bigger problem is climate change. It ain't going to be fifty years until it happens again. It might not even be fifty days.

Finding a solution to Problem 1 and Problem 2 at the same time was taxing to say the least.

Especially when we had no choice other than to factor in a bunch of supplementary problems.

Problem 3.

If we need to double the number of food parcels we are handing out, then we are going to have to double the amount of food we are buying in. Well, duh!

Can we afford this? Thanks to the unbelievable support we received from the community in the run up to Christmas, the answer is yes, For a while at least.

Problem 4.

Can we find someone willing to actually sell us what we need at a price we can afford?

This is a pretty big question believe it or not.

The major supermarkets are now all in full 1942 mode and rationing the hell out of their 'Value' lines. Asda won't let us buy more than 3 items from the value range. This makes Tesco's 16 seem positively generous.

Three tins of baked beans per delivery doesn't get us very far when we need to come up with 500 parcels per week.

Thankfully two retailers who were both very much on the other side of things in 1942 have stepped forward to play the role of our saviors.

Aldi and Lidl.

The managers at both Dumfries stores have promised me they are not rationing. If First Base wants to buy 500 tins of spaghetti at 16p a tin, then they will order it in for us.

Both of these businesses won the hearts of the German people in the desperate years following the war. In a decade known as 'The Hungry Fifties', Aldi in particular stepped up to the plate to sell basic food at a price the starving population could afford.

This has never been forgotten and lo and behold here they are bailing out a foodbank in Dumfries seventy years later.

However, solving Problems 3 and 4 doesn't help us to get to grips with Problem 2.

There is little point in successfully managing to buy and store 500 packets of savoury rice only to see them all ruined in the next flood.

For twenty years we have run our food parcel operation on a pretty simple basis.

We store as much as we can in the basement and fill up parcels as and when they are required.

Climate change and the threat of the floods to come mean we now need to find a way to change this.

Now we need to find a way to fill up lots and lots of parcels as soon as we purchase the required items and then find a way to make sure these parcels are safe from future flooding.


We certainly don't have the room in our upstairs areas which are all filled with freezers.

Well here's how.

Kerr at The Little Bakery in Dumfries has been one of our greatest supporters for years now. He has expanded his site and he generously offered us storage should we need it. We took him up on the offer in the autumn when we bought in three tonnes of baked beans as a hedge for the looming winter.

So I asked if we could have space for a stock of 400 food parcels and he said yes.

He's that kind of guy. To edit the words of Colonel Kurtz in 'Apocalypse Now' - 'If we had ten thousand men like Kerr, the problems of the Cost of Living Crisis would be over very quickly.'

It wasn't feasable to store 400 parcels in one big pile, so we ordered 10 three sided cages on wheels. Like the ones you see in supermarkets. We found them on Ebay. £90 a pop. Thanks to the December donations, £900 was a bill we could afford to pay.

So. We had a solution to part of Problem 2. But not a perfect solution. We would still have to carry big stocks in the basement for at least two days a week and sod's law would most certainly make sure the next floods would always hit us on one of these days.

Was there a way to keep 75% of the items needed to fill and store 400 parcels out of the basement altogether?

There was.

For some years we have worked with the local Community Payback team. Quite a few of their clients have completed their community service hours with us and, touch wood, a majority have gone on to live non-re-offending lives.

They have a depot in Dumfries where community services hours are used up on a variety of worthy projects.

We made our pitch. Could we deliver all the items we buy from Lidl and Aldi to their depot where their guys would fill up the food parcels? And once all the parcels were ready, could they deliver them all to our storage area out at the Little Bakery?

The answer was yes and yes.

And all of a sudden Problems 1, 2, 3 and 4 had all taken a kicking.

We can now pick up items and keep them above the coming floods every step of the way.

And the cost apart from £900 we invested in storage cages?

Zip. Zero. Nowt. Nada.

And this where the way we managed to solve problems 1, 2, 3 and 4 is suddenly highly relevant to the times we are living in.

Think about it.

We all know there is a chronic cost of living crisis which is probably going to a permanent feature in our lives in the years to come. Politicians will never own up to the cold hard fact of how far the UK has fallen, but the cold hard fact is there all the same.

It's staring us all in the face. Our currency is weak and we are all a whole lot poorer than we were twenty years ago.

People are broke.

Councils are broke.

National Governments are broke.

The global money markets have called time on us getting away with printing any more money.

All of which means we need to find smarter ways of getting things done. The Pandemic was a great trial run for this.

Think about it.

We have been able to find solutions to some pretty daunting problems by setting up a straight forward partnership.

It's a four way thing.

We have the community who made enough donations to enable us to be in a position to buy the food and the storage cages.

We have the private sector – The Little Bakery, Aldi and Lidl – who have provided basic assistance to make things possible.

We have the public sector – The Community Payback Team – who have made people and resources available.

And we have the voluntary sector – First Base. 


Our job is to put the partnership together.

This new partnership of ours has the capacity to pack and store north of 20,000 emergency parcels per annum. Just imagine what this kind of operation would cost in the government tried to do it? With premises, staff, equipment, power, IT, human resources, line management, oversight.....

My guess would be an overhead cost of £200,000 minimum. Then there would be the cost of food on top.

Well our new partnership is costing a twentieth of that.

This kind of partnership is capable of solving many of the problems we will all face in the coming years.

The community.

The voluntary sector

The private sector

Local and National Government.

If we can find imaginative ways to put all four together, all kinds of solutions can be found.

If you want to help us to keep on doing what we do, you can find our online fundraising page via the link below


Monday, January 16, 2023



I'm a relatively easy going sort of guy. It takes a lot to get me hot under the collar about things. If a Man Utd defender hacks down Mo Salah if front of where I sit at Anfield, well fair enough: foul language will probably pour from my mouth in pretty copious quantities.

Otherwise? No. Not really.

But there is one thing which is winding me up more and more these days – the utter inability of either the Scottish Government or the Scottish media to ever point out all the areas where we do so much better than the complete shitshow playing out south of the border.

Why? I haven't a clue why.

We are acting like archetypal meek and cowed colonial subjects, scared to say anything which might in any way upset our rulers.

Sorry Baas. We didn't mean nuttin' bad, Baas. Nuttin' bad, Baas.

As a manager of a foodbank, I tend to watch lots of  foodbank stories on YouTube. Of course I do. And every time I watch a video from Stoke or Barnsley or Swindon or Sunderland, the story is always the same. And these stories get a little more biblical with every passing week.

I see queues at Foodbank doors stretching for hundreds of yards. Anxious, pinched faces peering over the shoulders of those in front.

Did I get here early enough? Will there be anything left?

It's a first come, first served world. A dog eat dog world.

Demand up, donations down, walls closing in.

If you turn up too late for a decent spot in the queue you'll be walking home with empty carrier bags in your pockets

Well our foodbank is busy.

Really busy. We're as busy as we have ever been outside of the early months of the pandemic.

But we're able to keep up. We can deal with the high demand. We're not yet getting uncomfortably close to capacity. It's not biblical.


Well I can't pretend to have anything close to a definitive answer. I just know in my bones if First Base was in Carlisle we'd be close to being completely buried right now.

The only reason I can find is what I would describe as all the small differences around the edges of the crisis which are managing to keep Scotland out of the abyss.

No Bedroom Tax

No brutal rent hikes.

No evictions

No prescription charges.

Extra cash every week for struggling families with kids.

A baby box for the newest of New Scots.

None of which are game changers on their own, but when you add them all up together they seem to be making a hell of a difference.

And because none these differences are big enough on their own, they just get ignored.

Sometimes I wonder if it is just Dumfries and Galloway where things are so much better than Lancashire, where my family still lives.

If I want to see my GP, I pick up the phone and I get to see him in a couple of days.

My English family have about as much chance of picking up the phone and asking to win the lottery as they have of getting an appointment with a GP.

Maybe this is a feeling many Scots share. Everything seems OK where I live, but it must be awful everywhere else. I mean it has to be, doesn't it? After all The Daily Mail and the Telegraph and the Sun and the Daily Mail say it is.

Every single day.

I get the feeling if an editor from any of these Unionist rags was ever caught in the act of writing a positive story about Scotland they would be stood up in front of a wall and shot as a traitor.

Last summer, the 'human sewage in the sea' story was huge for a couple of weeks. The nation's privatised water companies ran ISIS a close second in the 'Organisations We Are Told To Hate' league table. And every night on the six o'clock news, we were all treated to maps. Red dots showed where human sewage was being pumped into the sea and therefore making any kind of swimming as dodgy as sharing a lollipop with someone with leprosy.

The red dots on the maps screamed out a story so blindingly obvious it seemed even the Daily Mail couldn't ignore it.

The red dots started just north of Newcastle and they ran all the way down the east coast to Dover. Then they ran all the way to Lands End. Then they ran north around Wales and they didn't stop until they reached Carlisle.

And then they stopped.


And all around the vastness of the Scottish coastline there wasn't so much as a single red dot.

Because Scottish Water isn't privatised.

Because Scottish Water doesn't operate in the regulation free Wild West which starts the moment you pass the 'England' sign at Gretna.

England, the regulation free Wild West where it is absolutely fine and dandy to strip every last penny out of the water game and send the proceeds back to Bahrain or Malaysia our some private equity outfit in Texas.

And shit in the sea? Do any of the privatised English water companies give a shit? Of course they don't give a shit.

And neither do the politicians in Westminster who sign it all off in return for a nice two week a year Non Exec place on a corporate board once the time comes to strep off the gravy train.

Isn't this a difference so completely stark we should be able to shout it from the rooftops?

Well it seems not.

Well here's another stark difference which has got my fingers hitting the keys this morning.

Now these are cold, hard facts and figures.

As in figures which are facts.

Inescapable. Inarguable.

So here goes.


It is one of the richest cities in the world with a population of just shy of nine million. It is certainly the richest area of Britain with a GDP per Capita rate of £55,000 per person per annum.

Scotland is smaller than London.

Our population is 5.5 million.

Basically we are 60% the size London.

Our GDP per capita is £30,000 per person per annum. It's the second highest in the UK, but it is still only 55% of what the good folks of London enjoy.

So let's see how this pans out in practice.

In Scotland we have 8800 homeless kids in temporary accommodation.

How should this compare with London?

Well, London has 40% more people than Scotland so I guess they should have 40% more homeless kids.

An extra 3200.

So maybe we should expect there to be 12,000 homeless kids in London.

But hang on a minute.

They are 45% richer than we are, so surely they really should have 45% less homeless kids on a like for like basis? Well, shouldn't they?

More money means less homeless, kids right?

So let's knock off 3600 kids.

Leaving 8400 homeless kids in London as compared to 8800 homeless kids in Scotland.

Has to be.

Hasn't it?


Not even close.

The number of homeless kids in temporary accommodation in London, one of the richest cities in the world is.........



You read it right.


On a like for like population basis, six times worse than Scotland.

On a like for like money basis, nine times worse than Scotland.

And the why?

Well there really only can be one why.

In England they have a lousy, heartless, corrupt, right wing Government.

In Scotland we have an often flawed but essentially decent Government.

Our Government gives a damn about homeless children.

The Westminster Government?

The answer is in the figures.

Which are also the facts.

It seems about 55% of Scots now want away from these despicable shysters. I seriously wonder what on earth the 45% who want to stay with them are smoking.

Tuesday, November 8, 2022



So we call them library bags. Hardly the most imaginative of names! Library bags are the food parcels we make up for libraries and various other locations – Social work offices, NHS, homeless accommodation. I'm sure you get the picture.

Each library bag contains basics enough for three meals a day for three days. For one person.

A hungry person of zero means.

A citizen of the winter of 2022.

Ten basic items. No frills. Calories with a long shelf life.

Only a couple of months ago, I would distribute 50 or 60 library bags in a busy week.

But of course things have changed now.

Changed utterly as WB Yeats once upon a time said.

There was a sheen of frost in the fields yesterday and darkness closed in at five o'clock.

Anyone associated with a foodbank has been dreading this week for many months.

The week of the first frost. The week when the reality of the coming winter starts to bite. The week when the rubber meets the road.


So did I distribute 50 of our library bags last week when a sheen of frost glittered in the morning light?


Last week I distributed 200 of our library bags. A new record for First Base: a record which will probably stand for as long as the Truss lettuce.

Winter's not coming any more.

It's here.

When 'The Hunger Games' become a bleak and grinding reality.

Signs and signals.

A referral to a family of four in a small village which sees its fair share of tourists in the lazy days of summer.

Not a familiar location for a food parcel delivery. A leafy sort of street. Tidy front gardens with not a rotting old sofa in sight. Clean cars in the driveways. A backdrop of steep, forested hills.

For millions, a dream place to live. Not quite Cotswolds enough to be labelled a rural idyll. But pretty dammed close.

I open up the back of the van and unload food enough for four.

And a dog.

Are the curtains twitching?


The door opens and the eyes upon me are a mixture of embarrassment and panic. For I am the visitor she hoped would never, ever call. The foodbank guy.

Right here right now. Not on the news.

Here. In person.

In 2022.

We didn't do much small talk. We didn't do any. I tried on a smile to try and make the whole thing normal. She smiled back and looked bereft.

And did the neighbours see? Did they work it out? Will they be next?

Back in the van.

Back along the highways and the by-ways.

A foodbank guy. A white van guy. A part of the coming winter of 2022.

James from Moffat calls.

We do pleasantries.

He says the local school has been on. Ten families are failing to cope. Could we bring an extra 25 of our library bags? Not just for this week. For every week? If that's OK?

Of course it's OK.

It's what we're here for when all is said and done.

It's the role we are deemed to play in the hunger games of 2022.

I end the call. Light up a smoke. I drive the highways and the by-ways as a renewed curtain of rain lashes the windscreen.

I do the maths.

25 library bags a week.

100 a month,

1200 a year.

1200 x £5 = £6000

Add it to your budget, foodbank guy.

A scene from 'Apocalypse Now' jumps into my head. Kurtz and Willard. Brando and Sheen.

“Are you an assassin, Captain Willard?”

“I'm a soldier. Sir”

“You're neither. Your an errand boy sent by grocery clerks …... to collect the bill.”

The bill.

Another £6000 worth of bill.

And as I drive, I hope to hell Aldi continue to come through for us.

Because right now Aldi are the only show in town. They are the only place who are willing to sell us the tins and packets we need in sufficient quantities to stand a chance.

A delivery to a couple I have been delivering to for months now. They're of an age. They're waiting on decision for PIP. Personal Independence Payments. A chance to be independent of feeling hungry. It's another nice house with another nice car in the drive. Appearances don't deceive any more. Not in 2022. In 2022 they appear at the door looking for all the world like Michelin people. Layers and layers and not a light switched on.

It's all a long way away from the miserable strutting and fretting of Westminster where they are hell bent on blaming all of it on dinghy riding Albanians. Or the French. Or Vladimir Putin. Or people who eat tofu. Which at least leaves me in the clear. I've never eaten tofu in my life. Maybe I should try some?

A zoom meeting.

Like being back in 2020 again. Peak pandemic

The emergency food providers of Dumfries virtually gather to share their news and thoughts.

A food provider from a less favourable area of town lays a problem down on the table and asks for ideas. Her project collects 'end of day' items from shops, bakeries and supermarkets. Pies and sausage rolls and hot cross buns. She lays the collected food out on a trestle table outside a community centre, takes a picture and announces it via Facebook. In the Covid days, people would carefully keep their social distance and go out of their way to share and share alike. Back in the days of disease. Back in the days when we all figured it was nice to be nice.

Not so much any more.

Now a crowd is gathered and waiting before she puts the table out of the door. No need for Facebook. And once she starts to lay out the day's offering, it becomes a case of grab what you can grab and grab it fast. One or two families with something of a local reputation fill their carrier bags whilst the more timid stand back, too feart to argue the toss.

The days of making nice seem to have faded away.

In 2022 things are different. In 2022 is hard to see an end in sight. There's no vaccine roll out for ingrained poverty.

A long dark winter awaits.

If you would like to help First Base do what we do, you can find our online fundraising page via the link below.



Tuesday, September 6, 2022



For the last couple of weeks I have had Sean Bean's voice stuck in my head.

The full fat Sheffield version.

Two words.

'Winter's coming.'

Oh yes. Is winter ever coming.

A couple of sayings have been in my mind keeping Sean company.

First up, an old piece rock solid common sense.

'Hope for the best and prepare for the worst.'

And then a CIA adage I gathered up somewhere back in the 70's when Langley operatives were urged to always follow the rule of the six 'p's'.

'Proper planning prevents piss poor performance.'

Well I am happy to assure you The First Base Agency is every bit as willing to follow the rule of the six 'p's' as the spies of Central Intelligence Agency.


The task at hand.

A plan for what is almost certainly going to be the hardest winter any of us has ever known.

Having spent a couple of weeks going through the planning process, it seems only right and proper to share it.

Warts and all.

For better or for worse.

Let's start with first principles.

The core role of our foodbank is to make sure anyone living in the 3400 square miles of South Scotland we cover gets something to eat if their cupboards are bare.

Our model is different to most foodbanks. We don't simply distribute the food donations we receive and reluctantly close the doors once all the food has gone.

Instead we have always managed to keep up with demand.

If there is not enough food donated to us, then we buy in what we need to keep up.

In twenty years we have never once had to tell someone we can't give them anything due to a lack of food.

I really, really hope I will still be able to make this statement in a year's time.

The big question of course is just how high the coming demand is going to be.

I have decided to work on what might be a very optimistic assumption. I am assuming our new Prime Minister is probably going to be truly awful but probably not suicidal.

Allowing the October price hikes to go through in full would surely be absolute political suicide as 75% of Tory voters back some kind of price cap.

If the new prices are indeed applied in full, then there is no way we will be able to keep up with demand no matter what we do.

I am therefore assuming the power prices will be capped at the level they are at now.

This of course is still double what they were last year. So far the true impact of the recent rises has been hidden by a long, warm summer.

But not for much longer now.

As Sean keeps on telling me.

Winter's coming.

So. Power bills up 100% and food costs up over 20%.

Benefits frozen and wages nowhere close to keeping up.

Way back in the days before the pandemic, we helped out lots and lots of families who were skirting along the very edge of financial ruin. Incomings would cover outgoings by the skin of their teeth. An unexpected one off expense would put them completely under water. A broken boiler. A stinging MOT. A sick cat.

With power prices double and food prices up by a quarter, each and every one of these families and individuals will be completely under water when the first bite of winter demands some heat in the home.

What will this look like in terms of demand for our services?

My best guess is a 250% increase.

So the money we now spend on one emergency food parcel will have to run to five emergency food parcels in November.

Will food donations increase to help us meet this growing need?

No, for a whole variety of reasons. Already food banks all across the country are reporting a steep decline in donated food.

Will cash donations increase?

I sincerely hope so!

There is a miserable reality here. We are entirely dependent on the Westminster Government borrowing enough cash to provide the kind of emergency relief the likes of First Base are going to need.

Some of this borrowed cash needs to be first of all sent up to Edinburgh and then down the line to local Councils.

The Scottish Government isn't allowed to borrow money.

Our local council isn't allowed to borrow money.

So its back to hope for the best, prepare for the worst.

And the worst is pretty bad.

How many emergency parcels might we be required to issue in January?

My best guess is 4000.

What kind of resources can we be confident of using to make this happen?

Maybe £8000 at a pinch.

A big pinch.

Which means £2 per emergency food parcel.

For First Base, an emergency food parcel needs to contain enough for 3 meals per day for three days for one person.

Nine meals delivering a minimum of 5000 calories and achieving a reasonably full belly.

And cost isn't the only issue to be dealt with. Ever since the pandemic, availabity has become more and more of a problem. In the days before Covid 19, I could log onto an online supermarket and order 100 tins of value baked beans. There is no such thing in the harsh reality of the new normal. Everything which is good value is strictly rationed. Asda have their value range rationed to five items per order. Morrisons don't even list their value range.

So the task has been to create a food parcel which meets both the nine filling meals requirement as well as the availability requirement as well as the whole thing costing no more than two quid requirement....


I know.

Well, it's time to smash the metaphorical bottle of Moet on the side of the metaphorical newly minted cruise liner.

It's time to unveil the 2022/23 First Base Winter Emergency Food Parcel.





1 x PIE


2 x EGGS

100g SUGAR





3 x PORRIDGE – 2000 CALS





This bears no resemblance to the kind of food parcels we have been providing for the last twenty years. Those who have used our service in the past will be very disappointed when they take a look inside the bag. We will be including an explanatory note and apologising.

It is what Scotland 2022 looks like.

All of a sudden a First Base Emergency Food Parcel bears an uneasy similarity to a UN Emergency Food Parcel in the South Sudan or Haiti.


Not quite.

But we're getting there.

It's what 5200 calories spread out over three days for £2 looks like.

And we couldn't have got anywhere close to managing this without a whole lot of help.

Massive thanks are absolutely required.

To Kerr at the Little Bakery in Dumfries for helping out with pies and rolls and homemade soup and storage space which enables us to order in three tonnes of baked beans from Bookers at less than 30p a tin.

To Nith Valley eggs for supplying us with empty egg boxes at cost price so we can break down half dozen boxes into 2 egg boxes.

To Farmfoods for not rationing us on their porridge and agreeing to order in half a tonne of oats per month for us to collect.

To Thompsons Foods of Dumfries for allocating us the storage required for us to buy in three tonnes of pasta ready for the winter.

To the volunteers at Summerhill Community Centre and Moffat Town Hall who have committed to prepare hundreds of portions of homemade Scotch Broth through the winter.

Without all this support, there is no way we could realistically plan to help out 4000 people a month through the coming winter.

Not a chance.

Well at least we now have a chance. A good chance.

Our food parcels will be plain and basic. But they will stave off hunger. They will get people through to the warmth of the spring.

We will still be looking for all kinds of help.

Every portion of pasta, oats, Kucherak Seasoning and sugar will need bagging up. If you fancy doing some bagging up at home in front of the tele, please give me a call on 07770443483 or email me at

Every donation of baked beans, porridge oats or penne pasta we receive will mean we have to buy in less.

Every cash donation will help us to help more people if we have to.

And of course we will still be delighted with any donated food item which isn't on the list. These will be the extras we can add to the basic parcels. Maybe one item per parcel. Maybe two. Maybe three. I'm sure you get my drift.

I never thought we would ever be gearing up to provide this kind of food parcel.

But we are where we are.

We are in Scotland 2022 and it's going to be a very, very long hard winter.

If you are minded to help us out you can find our online fundraising page via the link below.


Monday, August 29, 2022


I've had this blog sitting for weeks now. It seemed right wait for the actual situation we all find ourselves in to to fully emerge.

Well it has emerged.

At first we were braced for a truly challenging winter.

Then things moved beyond 'challenging' and into 'crisis'. The much discussed 'Cost of Living Crisis'.

And now? Aye. And now. 

Now the coming winter is a looming catastrophe. 

Beyond challenging. Beyond anything we have seen since Hitler was strutting his stuff.

Sixty million citizens of the UK are suddenly wholly dependent on one ridiculously over promoted woman conducting a series of screeching U Turns to avoid complete civil breakdown.

If the UK Government allows the October gas and electric price hikes to go ahead in full the consequences don't bear thinking of. 

I can't believe Liz Truss has anything like the backbone to be so completely psychopathic. 

This blog assumes she will lose her nerve and somehow mitigate the projected price hikes which are looming in October.

If she does, then we are left with a huge crisis as opposed to an utter catastrophe.

It certainly is one hell of a crisis.

Literally millions of people were on the edge of needing to use a food bank before the world fell off a cliff in March 2020. 

With power prices twice what they were last year and food cost up north of 20%, the maths of life's very basics have become beyond brutal. All those barely managing millions will no long be able to pay all their costs any more.

By now we all know the maths. The desperate maths are laid out every night when we tune into the news. I will merely add a couple of thoughts.

In my sixty plus years, I have been there for two huge 'Pound a...' moments. I was 18 in the 'Winter of Discontent' of 1979 when the country chose Thatcher as the solution to our many ills. It was the first time a hard up 18 year old me paid £1 a gallon to fill up my venerable VW Beetle.

Eighteen years later, an older and still broke me got to know how it felt to pay £1 a litre for the first time.

This summer I had my third 'Pound a …' moment.

I was online in Tesco Groceries ordering the weekly First Base delivery and there it was right there on the screen.

As bold as brass.

Heinz Baked Beans. Not 440g any more. Only 415g now.

£1 a tin.

Quite a moment. And it seemed clear neither Heinz nor Tesco were in any mood to water it down. I mean they could have bottled it and gone for 99p. But no. They clearly were intent on sending a message.

£1 for a tin of beans.

Message received and understood.

My second thing. Just a simple bit of maths. The kind of brutal maths which leaves no wriggle room.

An individual adult relying on Universal Credit to keep their body and soul together receives £73 per week.

By the autumn, the projected average cost of domestic power is £70 per week.

It isn't the hardest of sums. It means a single adult is expected to feed, clothe and clean themselves for £3 a week.

45p a day.


When a 415g tin of Heinz Baked Beans is weighing in at a whole British pound?

Recently I heard the coming autumn nightmare described as a 'Social Emergency' by John Harris of the Guardian. I'll second that.

And of course you guys up in the Edinburgh Parliament are more than aware of all this stuff. I have absolutely no wish to give any lessons on egg sucking.

However, there are a few specific problems coming down the tracks for the country's foodbanks which you might not be fully aware of. 

As the coming social emergency draws ever nearer, there is lots of bad news and a couple of pieces of good news.


Foodbanks obviously rely on the public donating food. Well, duh! As the crisis deepens, people will start counting every penny. And there will be fewer and fewer spare pennies available to pay for a couple of extra items to drop into the Foodbank collection bin.

And how many of those who have made food donations in the supermarket collection box are actually in the store any more? A huge spike in grocery deliveries is one of the more noticeable legacies of the pandemic. If people simply are not physically in the store then they will no longer be dropping items into the foodbank bin.

Mass belt tightening will have a catastrophic impact on cash donations. The standing order to a charity will sadly be one of the first non essential costs to be cut.

Over the years, churches have been major collectors of emergency food. But things have changed in a big way over the years of the pandemic. Church goers are of an age. They have spent years in isolation. Many are still frightened to spend time in crowds. Church attendance has plummeted and so have the donations of food they are able to distribute. Churches who three years ago used to bring us a car boot full of donations every week now come with a couple of carrier bags.

And the church funds? Just imagine what it now costs to heat up a big old drafty church to the temperature required for an elderly congregation. There won't be much left for a cheque for the local foodbank.

Many emergency food projects rely on a either a subscription to Fareshere or the chance to collect the day's unsold or about to to be out of date goods from the local supermarket. Fareshare is a national charity which takes in vast quantities of surplus food from the supermarkets. Small charities pay Fareshare a couple of thousand pounds a year and in return they get a weekly delivery of food. Which is all good of course. Less food goes to landfill. Hungry people get a meal.

However things are slowly changing. Another news bulletin regular is the story of people gathering in the supermarket at seven in the evening to get a chance of buying 'yellow sticker' items. 'Was £1, now 20p'. And as the Social Emergency escalates, there will be more and more of these seven o'clock people.

The supermarkets are suited down to the ground by this. Why wouldn't they be? The yellow sticker opportunity is advertised regularly on the news. This equates to huge amounts of free publicity which will help the retailers to sell off more and more stuff and therefore give less and less away to the likes of Fareshare.

This will mean the emergency food projects relying on weekly Fareshare deliveries will start to receive less and less food. And projects relying on collecting unsold goods from their local store will also receive less and less food.

So basically, as the social emergency escalates and the demand for food rockets, the nation's foodbanks will be receiving less and less food.

Which leaves us all with only one option if we are to somehow keep up with the rising demand.

We're going to have to buy in more food.

But even this is getting harder with every passing week. It's not just a case of raising the required funds to buy in all the food we need. It's also the problem of actually being able to physically buy enough. Before the pandemic I could log on to the online supermarkets and order 100 tins of 'Value' baked beans.

Then came Covid.


Tesco limited us to 16 items of any given product

Asda limited us to 10 items.

And as of last week, Asda have reduced the ration to five items. If I order a delivery every day from Monday to Friday, I can only lay my hands on a lousy 25 tins of Asda's 'Value' beans. 

By December First Base will very possibly be expected to come up with at least a thousand emergency food parcels per week.

The maths are not exactly on our side!

And all the while, Foodbanks will be on the news. Every single night. And the story will always be the same. Things are dire! Many, many more people need to use their local Foodbank!

In these so familiar news pieces, there is always an assumption the local Foodbank will have some food to give. 

But will we? 

We're all pretty good at what we do, but none of us are miracle workers. Right now First Base is helping out 400 people a week. At the peak of the pandemic it was 600 a week.

Are we able to go back to 600 a week when the Autumn reveals the full extent of the social emergency?

Almost certainly.

But what if the Social Emergency means 750 people a week? Or a thousand?

Well logistically we can do it. But financially? Not a chance. There is no way we can raise enough cash to buy in enough food for such high numbers. And that is assuming we can find a way to work around the new rationing regimes of the retailers.

Instead I guess we might well have to change the parcels we give out to the kind of emergency food we see being provided in famine hit areas of Africa.

Not a great look for Scotland 2022.


Reason for optimism number one.

We all have a reasonable amount of time to get ready. There is no need for us to be blindsided by the coming social emergency. We have been given plenty of advance warning. Right now, heating is switched off all over Scotland and it won't be switched on until the first cold snap of the autumn. That will be the week when the impossible reality hits hundreds of thousands of people. The week when many will walk through the doors of their local Foodbank for the very first time. The week when demand will go through the roof.

Reason for optimism number two.

The Scottish Government has proved it is more than capable of stepping up to the plate to meet this kind of challenge. You did it in March 2020 when the pandemic threatened to tear apart the social fabric much like it is doing in China right now. You made quick and decisive decisions. You informed councils there would be funds available for front line charities to meet the spiraling needs of self isolating communities. You insisted these funds should be made available quickly and with minimal red tape.

And it worked. It worked better than anyone could possibly have imagined. All over Scotland, new community projects joined with existing projects like First Base and by hook or by crook, the vulnerable were looked after.

We all proved it could be done and it was done. It was done in double quick time and it was done unbelievably well. And it was done by an army of volunteers.

You guys provided the funding and the community did the rest.

Reason to be optimistic number three.

And here is the best news. 

The network which exploded into life in the early months of the pandemic is still in place. The premises. The volunteers. The expertise. The ability to support the vulnerable. All of it.

We all know how to deal with an huge crisis. We proved we could do it in 2020. We can do it again. As a legacy of the pandemic, every Council in Scotland now has a relationship with the community groups who stepped up when everything was grinding to a halt. You know who we are and you know where we are because you provided us with the funds we needed in the pandemic.

You can do it again. In 2020 our communities learned how to look after ourselves in the very darkest of times. In the coming winter, we're going to have to do it again. And we can do it.

But we can't do it on fresh air. We're not miracle workers. If we are to meet the coming demand, we're going to have to buy in an awful lot of food.

And you guys? Well you need to do exactly the same job you did in 2020. You need to make sure no emergency food project ever has to turn people away due to a lack of food.

It didn't happen when 2000 people a day were dying of Covid in the darkest days of 2020.

It doesn't need to happen in the darkest days of the coming winter. You have two months to make sure you have your side of things all sorted out and ready. 

You have two months to be ready for the worst.

And when the tsunami hits, you can be ready to press the button and the community will do the rest.

Please don't blow it.

If you would like to help First Base to gear up for the coming social emergency you can follow the link below to our online fundraising page.


Tuesday, April 12, 2022


It has to be said, we are living through very dark times. Every night the news is filled with images of genocide we all hoped would be forever consigned to the History Channel. 

Victorian levels of poverty are starting to stalk the land and before we know we'll all be spending a tenner to boil a kettle.

Finding a reason to be cheerful isn't an easy task.


Enough already.

The purpose of this missive is to inject a shaft of light into the gathering darkness.

When things are universally bleak, it is all too easy to feel helpless. Overwhelmed.

To batten down the hatches.

Fair enough.

And yet many of us feel the need to find a way to do something tangible. Something which makes things better, even if only in a small way.

Thankfully every day sees millions of people do exactly this when they put a tin into the foodbank collection box in their local supermarket.

A tin of beans makes a small difference. A million tins of beans makes a huge difference.

Which brings me to the photographs at the top of this blog.

Bullet points.

The Kupata Project is a small charity based in Dumfries and Galloway.

We raise money here in Scotland and we spend it in Uganda where the Covid 19 pandemic has taken abject poverty and turned it into desperate poverty.

What we do is really simple.

We provide sanitary pads to school girls. In a place where the average wage is £1 a day, sanitary pads are an unaffordable luxury for the vast majority of families.

Without sanitary pads, Ugandan girls miss up to 25% of their time in school.

Which basically makes their already limited life chances 25% worse.

We don't act like 'know it all' Westerners.

There's been more than enough of that kind of thing in Africa over the last few centuries.

We don't pretend to know better. Instead we solve a simple but significant problem.

The photos tell what we hope is an uplifting story. They paint a picture of a few people in Dumfries and Galloway making a direct and life changing difference to the lives of hundreds of girls in the heart of Africa.

The sums of money are not from the Bill Gates playbook.

£20 a month, £34 a month, £300 and £1000.

A school full of girls each.

A direct connection.

A vast difference made to many, many young lives.

And fair enough, in the midst of all the gathering darkness, it is only a small difference.

But when enough people put a tin of beans into a collection box it can soon add up to a million.

Anne and Bob and Maggie and Fiona and Richard and Suzie and Michelle and Shona and the members of Dalbeattie Rotary Club are separated from the girls in the photos by many thousands of miles. From rain swept Dumfries and Galloway to the green hills of Africa.

And yet the photos tell a story of a distance rendered obsolete. Instead there is a connection. An umbilical cord. Four schools adopted. A thousand lives changed.

A bright shaft of sunlight breaking through all the dark clouds.

If you would like to help out, you can find the link to the Kupata Project's online fundraising page via the link below. And if you would like to adopt a school for £20 a month, give me a call on 07770443483.

And by the way, putting the flags of Scotland and Uganda together on the posters wasn't our idea. It came from our young volunteers in Uganda.

What's not to like about that?


Saturday, March 12, 2022



It's March and it is already crystal clear. History will recall 2022 as a year of catastrophe. We don't yet know just how great the catastrophe might be. God forbid, it might still end in mushroom clouds.

Let's all pray otherwise.

Right now, all eyes are all on the pictures of 1942 in HD which fill our TV screens. How could our eyes not be?

But soon our attention will inevitably be drawn to disasters closer to home.

The cold hard economic facts are unlike anything we have seen since 1973.

Petrol is about to hit £10 a gallon and the price of a loaf of bread will double in the next couple of months.

A sixty mile round trip is about to cost £20.

The consequences are beyond comprehension and as the manager of an already over stretched foodbank the near future has become a thing of utter dread.

And in a way it started yesterday. The first clap of thunder from the approaching storm.

I parked up the van and clicked off a podcast describing how hell had come to earth in a city on the shores of the Black Sea.

Check messages.

A quiet voice on the very verge of tears.

I don't how how I am supposed to do this. Do I need to register? Do I need to bring in some documents?”

She wasn't a Ukrainian refugee facing the UK's wall of bureaucracy.

She was a lady living in abject rural poverty twenty or so miles from First Base.

Our near abroad.

Choking back the ever present tears, she ran through her story. Her tragedy. Her small, unnoticed tragedy in a world of vast tragedy.

A tragedy of various parts which had suddenly come together to make her life impossible.

The bare bones I will lay out are anonymised.

She has a serious long term disease which is getting steadily and inevitably worse.

But she can still work. And she has worked. She has worked for the same employer for all but 20 years.

Steady. Reliable. A part of the furniture. A model employee.

But over the course of a few days, everything has fallen apart.

Driving to and from her place of work involves five round trips of 50 miles per week. 350 miles in all.

And all of of a sudden the cost of travelling to and from work has gone up by £25 a week.

A straw to break the back of a camel.

Already going to work was costing her money. Staying at home in perpetual isolation on Universal Credit would put a few more pounds coins in her purse.

And already her incomings were incapable to filling the oil tank and thereby allowing her to heat her damp abode.

A real terms pay cut of £25 a week might as well have been £1000 a week.

She had arrived at the gates of impossibility.

And now she really has to fight her way through the tears.

Because her place of work was behind the till in a garage.

She laid out her tragedy to her boss. Piece by piece.

Maybe he could help make the impossible possible with a weekly splash of petrol?

Surely twenty years of reliable service had to be worth something?

In a perfect world it would be.

But this is anything but a perfect world.

This is planet earth in the year of Our Lord 2022.

Her boss gave her the same answer Putin has given to the people of Mariupol.


Not a litre, not a pound, not a penny.

Not my problem.

Plenty more fish in the sea.

So she resigned.

What other choice was there?

A dictator invades a neighbour and an ill lady in Dumfries and Galloway has to give up her job of twenty years in favour of a life of endless cold and utter isolation.

Dominos, right?

In their own way, basic sums can be as life ruining as cluster bombs.

The catastrophe of 2022 will come in many different forms.

For the people of Mariupol it is beyond every nightmare.

For the countries of the Middle East and Africa who rely on affordable wheat from Russia and Ukraine, it will mean famine.

And for us it will mean a vast rolling tragedy for those who could barely manage in the days before petrol hit £10 a gallon and the price of a loaf of bread doubled.

She came in to us yesterday. She is in town once a week for unmissable doctors appointments.

She came to us with the tears still flowing.

And of course we gave her a week's worth of food for herself and her dog and her cats.

And of course we assured her we would help her for as long as she needed our help.

And of course we told her there would be no documents required to enable her to keep her body and soul together.

First Base is not the UK Home Office.

First Base does not make people prove the extent of their desperation.

First Base does what it can and to be frank, it isn't going to be remotely enough.

Yes, we can keep food on the table. But we can't keep the heating on. Or the lights. And we can't pay the rent. Or buy clothes. Or drive bailiffs from the door.

And there is no parcel to drive away fear and despair.

I put the phone down after half an hour or so and couldn't escape a growing feeling of dread.

And so it starts.

Our part in the catastrophe of 2022.

Our resources are desperately limited. We do a pretty good job of distributing 16,000 emergency food parcels across and area which spans 3400 square miles. And our parcels are decent. Varied and reasonably nutritious. Three days worth of eating.

Not Fortnum and Mason. But not bad.

I wonder what one of our parcels will look like in six months time? Milk and a bag of porridge oats?

In the year when petrol is about to hit £10 a gallon and the price of a loaf of bread is about to double, how many emergency parcels will we be required to hand out in the 3400 square miles we cover?

I have no idea.

Nobody has any idea.

And so it starts.