Meet the Charity: Imagine If Trust
Many students living in the Smithdown area have probably passed by the unassuming Imagine If Trust building without a second glance, as they go down Lawrence Road. However, the Trust is responsible for a whole hive of charitable activity that spreads all over the city! Speaking with Chief Executive James Sloan, I found out more about all the different ways they help the community- and how to get involved.
You started in 2012 as a mix of different projects- how did that work?
The church that was based here for about twenty years had been trying to serve the community, and ran lots of little projects that began to grow over time. In around 2010 and 2011, we found that those projects were growing and required funding, so we created a separate charity in 2012 to house all the good social action that had come out of the church, to help brand it and give it some independence.
What are some of the things you do in Liverpool?
We run the Central Liverpool Foodbank, which is probably now one of the busiest foodbanks in the country. Last year we fed just short of 10,000 people, across 4 centres based in Wavertree, Kensington, Dingle and Toxteth- partnered with North and South Liverpool Foodbanks. We are also a Food Hub, which is a step on from a food bank, which is a kind of community shop- people can join as members, access the food store and get a number of items. We’ve also got a nursery [in Wavertree] and we provide supported accommodation- we’ve got a men’s and a women’s house, to help people who are homeless move into private tenancies, whilst also helping them with life skills. We also support sex workers on Friday and Saturday nights in Kensington.
Could you tell us a bit about your core values?
The first thing is that we’re faith motivated- our Christian faith drives us to do what we do. That doesn’t mean that people coming to us have to be part of that- but it is what motivates us! We’re also relational, and responsive to need. When we see a need in our community we’ll try to meet it, and that’s how the nursery came about- we were approached by the council three years ago. We are collaborative and holistic- so we want to work together with people and organisations in the city. We also believe that a person is more than just the issue they’re coming to us with. In the foodbank for example, yes, they may be hungry- but that may be down to a debt issue or a sanction with their benefits. We try and work to understand the person.
Would you say there’s a ‘typical’ foodbank user?
Not really- we see people from young, single men who’ve just come out of work, to families, to people who have worked all their life. We’ve seen a chap who worked as a lorry driver for forty years, then was made redundant and had fallen on hard times. He was so embarrassed to be here- but he just needed that one handout at that point in time to get him back on his feet a few weeks later. So, there’s no typical food bank user; it really is a broad spread of people.
What would you say has been the greatest achievement of Imagine If so far?
I can’t think of the greatest one, but sometimes it just seems like to keep going! As a charity you rely on both donations and the good will of volunteers, and we’ve been very fortunate to have some very loyal supporters financially and some fantastic volunteers. Some who work in the food bank have been with us for six years, giving a day a week- that’s incredible commitment. We rely on the 1,800 people who volunteer regularly- without them, we wouldn’t keep going. So in some respects, the greatest achievement is just to maintain all those volunteers and being able to keep going. We are getting to a point where services are being cut, funding is tighter, and it is hard to maintain your services. So, we’ve had to be creative over the years, but sometimes it’s good just to recognise the small things, like being able to maintain your provision. Also hearing stories- like seeing a mum with two kids visiting us and seeing her get back on track, having been at a very low point. That does lift the spirits of the team!
Have you got any projects coming up in the near future?
There’s obviously a lot happening around refugees and asylum seekers in the city at the moment. We don’t feel we specialise in that area, but we’re willing to support where we can. Also we’re developing housing- we’d like to see a few more houses be added to our project. It’s a steep learning curve, working with people who have multiple needs- and not just on a one-off basis, but day to day. We’re getting calls into the night from people in the house struggling with a number of issues. But it’s also a real privilege to be living alongside people and see the positive changes they have gone through. There is a huge need in Liverpool around homelessness, so that is probably something we will be looking to grow- to try and get more people off the streets and into their own places.
What are ways in which students can get involved with Imagine If?
There’s a different range of projects to get involved with, depending on the time you can offer, or the skills you’ve got. With the food bank particularly, we have three sessions a week that run in Wavertree, and we do have a session open every week on Sunday. In that session you can do anything from making teas and coffees, to sitting on the tables and serving the guests coming in, to the back-office stuff like stocking the shelves and weighing the food in. We have ad-hoc foodbank collections as well at supermarkets- so we collect at Tesco twice a year, and sometimes at Asda or other supermarkets. There’s also events that we do- such as family fun days, film mornings, fundraisers- if you’ve got skills in organising people or events management, then get in touch! It’s a great way to come and give back to the community, it’s something to put on your CV- and it’s good to feel part of something as well. Pop in for a visit- we’re always happy for people to come in and see what we do. We’re not a closed door by any means!
The Imagine If Headquarters is at 147 Lawrence Road, Liverpool, L15 3HA. They can also be contacted via their website at http://www.imagineiftrust.org/contact/.
Featured Image courtesy of Imagine If Trust. All other images author’s own.