Manchester Universities’ Catholic Chaplaincy (MUSCC) is a veritable hub of volunteers who offer up their time to improve the lives of others.
Here, students from Manchester University, Manchester Metropolitan University and the Royal Northern College of Music are served by the Jesuits at MUSCC. Manchester students are not content simply to be on the receiving end of things; they are eager to give something back to the local community.
This eagerness has resulted in a thriving St Vincent de Paul Society (SVP), which sees students leading numerous outreach initiatives. The SVP student volunteers regularly go on sandwich runs to the homeless, visit the elderly, and co-ordinate a breakfast club for children at the Holy Name Primary School.
The largest charitable endeavour which has sprung up from the chaplaincy is the Manchester Central Foodbank. Established in 2013, and running under the Trussell Trust, this is the UK’s first student-led foodbank.
The idea for establishing a foodbank arose from a real need and desire to alleviate poverty in the areas closest to the chaplaincy.
“There are 80,000 students here on the Oxford Road corridor, and yet some of the poorest and most deprived are on our doorstep,” explains Fr Tim Byron SJ, Senior Chaplain. “The students have always wanted to help – they saw problems and sought to fix them. We wanted not only to help the homeless, but to provide a safety net to prevent people from sinking into poverty and homelessness.”
The student volunteers set up the foodbank themselves, with the support of Fr Tim. They did everything from arranging meetings with local businesses, raising awareness, fundraising and gathering a hefty three tonnes of food to get the foodbank started!
The foodbank now operates out of the chaplaincy three days a week and draws a team of volunteers from all backgrounds and beliefs. Those who need food present a voucher given to them by their GP, Citizens Advice Bureau, parish priest or another nominated person in the community. They then receive three days-worth of food.
“The reasons for people coming to us vary,” Fr Tim continues. “At first we saw a lot of students struggling with debt. Often families reliant on free school meals begin to feel the pinch during the holidays. Now the refugee dispersal is hitting Manchester, and that’s what we’re seeing more of. It’s all about preserving the dignity of the people we help. This isn’t about shame or pity, but dignity.”
Although the foodbank runs out of the chaplaincy and relies mainly on student volunteers, it continues to operate throughout holiday periods.
“It’s really important for us to continue to have a presence here even when the chaplaincy is closed for the holidays,” says Foodbank Manager Daniel O’Brien. “People are very generous with their donations and with their time. It’s essential for us to keep going. As Fr Tim is always saying, ‘hunger doesn’t take a holiday’.”
To find out more about the food bank and chaplaincy life follow these links:
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Tim Byron SJ, Senior Chaplain
Currently chaplain to the Universities of Manchester, and priest at the Holy Name Church, Manchester. Became a Jesuit in 1998. Tim has previously taught and been chaplain in Wimbledon College and St Ignatius College.