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.

Thursday, March 26, 2020


A week ago I posted a blog to lay out the tentative plans First Base was putting together to meet the challenges of the time we all now live in. Once the words were all down and ready to be thrown out into the ether, it was hard not to wonder whether or not we were being a bit over optimistic.

Well, things have moved a long way and thankfully it seems our optimism wasn't misplaced.

I guess some straight forward clarity is a good idea, especially for local readers.

Here is where we will be at by lunchtime on Friday.

We will have food in place and ready to be delivered from six locations across Dumfries and Galloway. Here they are

THE FIRST BASE AGENCY on Buccleuch St in Dumfries – from here we can help people out in and around the town.

THE VISITOR CENTRE in Castle Douglas – Frome here we can help people out in Castle Douglas, Dalbeattie and Kirkdudbright and surrounding villages.

KELLOHOLM LIBRARY – From here we can help people out in Kelloholm, Kirkconnel and the villages of Upper Nithsdale.

THE ABERLOUR PREMISES in Annan – From here we we can help people out in Annan, Eastriggs, Gretna and the surrounding villages.

A VOLUNTEER'S GARAGE in Lockerbie – From here we can help people out in Lockerbie, Lochmaban and the surrounding villages.

MOFFAT TOWN HALL – From here we can help people out in Moffat, Langholm and the surrounding villages.

Each of these locations is already linked up with groups of volunteers who have come together over the last few days.

We have been able to stock each of these sites with food thanks to lots of brilliant people stepping up to the plate and helping us out.

The volunteers at the Summerhill Community Centre have produced almost a thousand portions of Scotch Broth.

The Little Bakery in Dumfries has provided eight hundred pies and a similar number of bread rolls.

Irvings Bakery in Castle Douglas are selling us hundreds of packets of biscuits at cost price and the tab is being picked up by the Castle Douglas Development Forum.

We have had some frought moments getting all this together. Our system obviously relies heavily on freezers and they have very much become a part of the panic buying madness which has swept through the country over the last couple of weeks. Our first two big freezers were easily enough bought and delivered. The next two were rather more touch and go. By the time I called Kevin Farish to ask for two more, everything had changed – he had sold 70 freezers over the weekend. Luckily two new big freezers had just arrived in the yard and I gleefully put our name on them and arranged delivery. So. All in place. Well, actually, no. The Prime Minister pitched up on the TV to close the country down and things were back up in the air.

Yesterday morning turned into a race against the clock. I just managed to pick up a hired van from Arnold clark as they were in the process of shutting down. We then were able to grab our two freezers and hour or so before Farish's did the same.

So what next?

We have been in constant discussion with the Council. There is no way we will be able to get anything in place to field phone calls. Our systems wouldn't stand a chance. So they have promised to run with this particular ball. With luck, by the end of this week they will have a hotline in place for anyone to call up if their cupboards are starting to look uncomfortably bare. This line will be available to both members of the public and a wide variety of support workers – social work, homeless, health visitors, home carers, cops... anyone really. At 4pm each day, all the names and addresses will be broken down into the six areas described above and e mailed to us. We will then send the lists out to each area and the food will be delivered the next day.

We have also been nagging the council to death to do what we can't do and let people know how and where help is available. I guess I might as well repeat this nag once again here! Sorry guys, but being a pain in the neck is a tough habit to break.

Please use your Council Tax mailing list to send every household in the region a simple sheet of A4 which basically says 'Need help? Call this number'. Then spend a few hundred quid to buy adverts on Border News and West Sound to fire out the same message.

So how has demand been over the last week? Spookily quiet. Weirdly quiet. Weird is very much the word. Driving around yeaterday was off the scales weird. The sun was out and the countryside was ready to be turned into a range of postcards. High Streets were film sets waiting for tumbleweed. Would the police stop us? I had a copy of the Dumfries Standard ready to show them – a picture of yours truly with a bunch of food. Honestly lads, we're the foodbank guys. Essential, right?

As it turned out, the makeshift ID wasn't required.

Everything about yesterday reminded me of stuff I have read about 1938 – the months before Neveille Chaimberlain's doomed visit to Munich. Every man and his dog was convinced war was a mere matter of days away. All over Britain frantic preparations were being made at break neck speed. Every child was issued with a gas mask. Trenches were dug. Sandbags filled the city centres. People were constantly looking nervously up into the skies expecting at any moment to see a vast armada of German bombers to appear.

But nothing happened. For months. For two years. And then five years worth of hell was let loose.

Is this week our very own 'Phony War'? Only time will tell. Our plan in this regard is crystal clear. Maybe in six months people might say to me 'bloody hell Mark, First Base went a bit over the top. You acted like the end of the world was on it's way....'

If I ever have this conversation, then halle-bloody- lujah! If we are left with hundreds or portions of frozen Broth on our hands, then that will do us just fine. It is far better to over prepare. Playing catch up when people have nothing to eat is the worst of nightmares.

Maybe our new system will be quite incapable of dealing with the coming demand. I hope not. As the weeks go by, I am confident we will get better and better at meeting whatever is headed our way.

I have been hugely impressed by the attitude of both the Scottish Government and our local council. They are not trying to take control of everything and get involved in things they are not used to doing. Instead they have accepted from the get go that the voluntary sector has more expertise and experience in doing this stuff. They are working with us and offering help as and when we need it.

Our next task is to add to the basic food parcel we currantly have on offer. Right now, we are able to provide two portions of Broth, two pies, three rolls and a pack of biscuits. Basic, sure, but pretty damned tasty. Not enough though.

Government is piling pressure onto the supermarkets to ring fence supplies for food banks. This is going to take a while, but hopefully in a week or two we will be able to buy in extra items – tinned stuff, cereal, milk. With a following wind, the parcels we hand out in three weeks time will be much more like our normal parcels.

When the time comes when we can once again buy in food, we are obviously going need to have the cash to buy it so if you can help us out a bit it we will be massively grateful. You find our online fundraising page via the link below.

Before I wind this up, I really need to take a moment to give a few examples of how individuals and communities are stepping up to the plate to help out. There have been loads and loads of examples and I feel a little bad having to boil these down to just a few, but to go on and on isn't really an option. So here are a few. A few out of many.

The two ladies in the village of Sanquhar who put togther a list of fifty volunteers over the course of a weekend who are willing to deliver food or prescriptions or to call up those who are isolated and quarantined for a chat. In two days flat they managed to put a letter through every letter box in the village with phone numbers and offers of help. Two days. Impressive.

Neil at the Mad Hatter Cafe in Castle Douglas. Like millions of cafes across the world, Neil had no choice but to close his doors. Soul destroying. Frightening. He could have gone home to sulk at the unfairness of life. But he didn't. Instead he called us up. Hey guys. Once upon a time I was an army chef. If you want someone to knock out Broth porions by the 500, then I've been there and done that. Just let me know and it will be done. How sound is that?

I will finish up with Sharon. This is the message she sent to me via Facebook

'Hey Mark. I'm a fitness instructor or should I say I was a fitness instructor till all this shit hit the fan. I will be doing online classes and folk have been wanting to pay me for these classes. I would like to donate any money taken to yourself at 1st Base. What is the best way to do this...many thanks Sharon x'

Over the last couple of days lots of donations have appeared on our JustGiving page from Sharon's clients. Once again, Covid 19 must have been an absolute body blow for Sharon. She could have thrown in the towel and howled at the moon. But she didn't.

Thankfully it is clear there are a whole bunch of great people like Sharon who are ready and willing to do what it takes to get us all through this bloody nightmare.

Proud to be Scottish? Or New Scottish in my case? You bet I am.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020


So First Base faced some pretty daunting challenges on Monday morning. The wall to wall rolling news was as grim as the weather. Here is how things looked in a nutshell.

Food donations were falling off a cliff – we rely on receiving £45,000 a year's of packets and tins.

Buying food in was not a viable option. At 11 a.m. The Tesco van pulled up at the back door. £500 worth of stuff ordered. £18 worth of stuff delivered.

And demand? Well, we didn't need a crystal ball to see demand was about to take off.

Money? Yeah. Right. We are not one of those animal charities with ten years of reseves in the bank.

So. Decision time. We could follow the majority of the country's foodbanks and close our doors. Pen a note for the door. "Due to the Coronavirus......"

No way. To close the doors would have been against everything The First Base Agency has tried to stand for. Since 2003. 

OK then. Decision made. We weren't going to close. Time for the big question. How on earth could we go from 120 emergency food parcels a week to at least 600 emergency food parcels a week with no virtually no food donations? And no ability to buy food in? And not enough money to buy the food in even if we were able to buy it?

Well it is Wednesday morning now and I am pleased to be able to tell you we are pretty confident we have found a way.

Here is what we have been able to put in place.

Getting hold of enough of the packets and tins we usually rely on is clearly impossible. They won't be donated. They can't be bought. And even if they could be bought, we couldn't afford to buy enough of them.

So we have come up with a basic emergency parcel using stuff we will be able to lay our hands on.

First up. Broth. A go to favourite for Scotland in times of hardship. I checked out the supermarket shelves and with no great surprise I discovered the broth mix shelves had been stripped bare. So I called up the sales department at Whitworths, the company who make 'Great Scot' broth mix. Could they sell us some? They were kind of surprised, but they promised to do what they could. A couple of hours later they e mailed me. They had about a tonne of broth mix in stock and they were willing to sell it to us at a 20% discount. And deliver it for free. They could have profiteered. They didn't.


My next step was to meet up with Anne Marie at Summerhill Community Centre. If Carlsberg were run a community centre...…! They are a great outfit. Every day of the week the place is buzzing with groups for young and old alike. Sadly all of these groups were closed down on Monday morning. Just like all groups. Everywhere.

Over the years Summerhill have invested heavily in their kitchen facilities. Now it is gleaming and state of the art. Crucially, they have a superbly motivated and competant team of volunteers who are well skilled in cooking large batches of food.

I asked if they might be able to start cooking up industrial quantities of broth for us. And they said yes. Why don't we start with 400 portions a week?

Progress, right? We had a tonne of broth mix and good people ready and willing to turn it into soup. Logistics? Plastic containers which are microwave ready and on the Bookers shelves for 9p a go. Tick. Procedure? Cook soup. Fill containers. Cool down and make ready for us to collect and take to the First Base freezers the next day. By hook or by crook, we are confident we will be able to buy the sacks of spuds, carrots, neeps and onions we will need to add to the the broth mix.

Next question. Did we have the required freezer capacity? No we didn't have the the required freezer capacity. So I called up Kevin Farish. Kevin has a Rolls Royce of a business selling electrical appliances right across Dumfries and Galloway. His man Murray told me they had been selling freezers like hot cakes all weekend. Well if people want to panic buy, they need somewhere to stow their panic purchases.

Did they have a couple of large chest freezers to sell us? They did. Huge ones. 430 litres each. They should have sold for £400 each. Kevin said the best he could do was £300 each. He could have profiteered. He didn't.


They are due to be delivered at one this afternoon.

Another box ticked.

Next. Kerr at The Little Bakery in Dumfries. For years Kerr has been building his bakery business up on uncomplicated quality. His pies win all kinds of awards. If you are ever lucky enough to eat one, you will see why. We sat in his office. I laid our problems down on the table. I told him where we were up to on the soup front. I said it would be great if we could add two of his pies and three of his rolls to the two cartons of soup. And then we argued for the bast part of half an hour. I explained how we already spend £2000 a month on buying in food and some of this would need to head his way. He kept on telling me to piss off and asked me why he would even think of invoicing First Base in a time of crisis. In the end we agreed to disagree. This is the kind of guy Kerr is. He knows a bit about what a crisis looks like by the way – he was a volunteer fireman during the Lockerbie disaster.

After half an hour he promised us as many pies and rolls as we needed.


Tuesday morning and we had things in place to make a basic emergency parcel based on items manufactured locally out of simple, buyable ingredients.

Capacity. About 600 parcels a week's worth of capacity.


Next up. How to get the food to the people who need the food? Right now, 50% of our parcels are collected from libraries across the 3400 square miles of territory we try to support. Do they have any freezers? No, they don't have any freezers. OK. Amazon. How much for a counter top freezer? About a hundred quid. I called up two councillors who picked up the phone straight away. If First Base buys up freezers and delivers them to libraries, could you guys guarantee to repay us at some stage? An answer is promised this morning. I am pretty sure the answer will be yes.

Which brings we to the part where First Base is asking for some help. We have already been contacted by lots of people who want to make themselves available. Now we want to start taking people up on these offers.

There are four ways you can help us out.

1. This one takes about five minutes. The Council is making money available to local charities who do anti poverty work. We are bidding for £12,000. The public makes the decision about who gets funded. The voting process is online. If you follow the link below, you can vote for us. Everyone who has voted for us tells me the process is quick and easy


2. Money. Of course money. As demand for emergency food sky rockets over the coming weeks, there will be any number of unforeseen expenses. Having some cash reserves available can mean the difference between saying 'yes' and saying 'no'. Modest reserves meant we were able to buy in £1300 worth of broth mix and £600 worth of freezer capacity without having to waste vital time trying to raise funds. If you follow the link below, you will arrive at our online fundraising page. I hate to go all Tesco, but every bit really does help.


3. Deliveries. As demand grows, we are going to need lots of help with getting our emergency parcels to the people who need them. We can make sure this is done safely for all concerned. Here is how it will work? A volunteer parks up outside our back door and opens the boot. We fill them up with parcels and hand them a list of addresses. Nobody gets within two meters of each other. Once the volunteer arrives at an address, they call the client and tell them their parcel will be left on the doorstep. Again, nobody needs to be within two metres of each other. If you are willing to offer your services to help get the parcels out, please either e mail me on or call me on 07770 443483. We cover an area from Kirkconnel to Dalbeattie and Castle Douglas to Langholm

4. Cooking. The volunteers at Summerhill have committed to make soup 2 days a week. There are three days available for more soup to be prepared should we need to help more than 200 people a week. And I am pretty sure we will need to help more than 200 people a week. Lots more. If you are a dab hand in the kitchen and minded to help out, then either e mail me on or call me on 07770 443483.

So. That pretty much does it. It is Wednesday morning and we are well on the way to having everything in place. The new regime goes live on Monday. With what we have in place already, we can already help a lot of people. If more and more people are willing to step up, either with money or with time, we will be able to help a whole bunch more people.

Can we manage 1000 emergency parcels a week? You know what, I reckon we possible can. With help. Your help. Here are the links again.

To vote for us, click below.

To donate to us, click here.

We are all about to live through a truly horrible time. We can either hide away and look to our Governent for everything. Or we can rally around and get stuck in. In my book, 'bottom up' is always more effective and efficient than 'top down'. 'Bottom up' means people like Anne Marie and Kerr and Kevin and the good folks at Whitworths. People who say 'sure, glad to help'. Decisions made quickly mean stuff can get done quickly.

So it's over to you. Please share this and help us out if you can.

Sunday, March 8, 2020


The last blog I posted was read by just over 100,000 people. Something tells me this one won't attract quite the same amount of attention! Unfortunately this one is rather more important. Well. It is for us. For First Base.

So. It's probably best keep things short and snappy I guess.

Here goes.

First Base is the largest foodbank in South West of Scotland.

This year we are on track to help out over 6000 people with emergency food.

The area we cover by the way is home to 100,000 people and it stretches out across 3.4 million acres of Scottish soil. Our emergency parcels can be collected from a network of 25 collection points.

6000 hungry people is a lot, right? And that is before we factor in the likes of Brexit and Coronavirus.

You won't be surprised to learn that all of this costs money. Quite a lot of money. Luckily, the local community are absolutely brilliant. Every year we receive over £40,000's worth of donated food.

But it ain't nearly enough. Each and every week we spent over £500 on deliveries from Tesco and Asda to make up the shortfall.

Then of course there is rent and wages and phone bills and electricity and delivery costs....

And on and on it goes.

So we need cash to do what we do. It is our lifeblood.

And basically we could really use your help in securing £12,000's worth of life blood.

We are not looking for your money here. How's about that! Instead we are looking for about 5 minutes or so of your time.

So here's how it works.

Dumfries and Galloway Council hace received a chunk of money from the Governement in Edinburgh to allocate to projects which are involved in Anti-Poverty work. As in us. Giving 6000 people a year something to eat when their cupboards are bare obviously ticks the box.

The Council have decided to pass on the decision as to who gets the cash to the public. As in you. Whoever gets enough votes, gets a share of the cash.

We are on the ballot in three Council areas – Nithsdale - £5000, Annandale and Eskdale - £5000 and Stewartry - £2000.

The process of casting a vote is actually really straight forward. I've just done it and it genuinely only took 5 minutes.

I'll put in the link in couple of minutes. Before I do, I'll sketch out what you need to do once you've got there.

First up, as far as I can tell there is no requirement for you to live in Dumfries in Galloway to cast a vote. So basically absolutely anyone reading this can play a part.

So this is how things play out.

You go to the Participatory Budgeting page.

Click 'Register to Vote'

User name – your name or whatever you fancy.

E mail

Confirm e mail

Then they sent you and e mail and you hit 'confirm'.

Once you're registered, you can choose to vote in any of the three areas.

My gut feeling tells me we will be looking hardest for votes in Annandale and Eskdale and Stewartry.

Once you get to the page, you will find a list of charities looking for support. You have three votes and hopefully one of them will be for us.

Again, it takes a couple of minutes.

And then you're done. Just like that.

So here's the link.

OK. If you have done the deed then thank you and thank you again. Your support is hugely appreciated. Really.

Which leaves one last thing. It would be absolutely great if you could expend another few seconds of your life and give this a share. If you do, then once again – thanks!

So I guess that's me pretty much done. £12,000 is a big deal for First Base. Like I said – life blood.

And we need all the help we can get.