“This is the UK in 2023, people are starving”: Tom Skipp photographs Bristol’s food banks
In collaboration with the Trussell Trust, the photographer hopes to shed light on the systemic issues that have led to the ever-increasing necessity of food banks.
- Olivia Hingley
- 12 December 2023
Over the years, like many, the documentary photographer Tom Skipp began hearing more and more about food banks. Not only stats on their vastly rising usage, but, more disturbingly, comments from figures like the Tory’s deputy chairman Lee Anderson. In February of this year Anderson claimed that there is no “massive need” for food banks, and that people’s hunger simply comes down to people being unable to budget.
So, in collaboration with the Trussel Trust, Tom set himself on photographing the various food banks of his home city of Bristol, in the process raising awareness of the circumstances that have led to their increased presence.
Much like Tom’s Empty Community series from 2020 which focussed on dormant spaces during Covid, the images throughout focus predominantly on deserted interiors, rather than people. “I don’t want to point a camera at someone that’s using a food bank, feeding off their hunger,” says Tom. “I hope there’s power in the absence of people.” He instead lenses in on the many spaces like churches and community centres that provide such services. From wide shots of their slightly dated interiors; rows upon rows of empty chairs, large crosses on the wall, deflated balloons and streamers from a recent party, to close-up shots; packages of eggs dated for use-by with black marker pen, shelves stacked with tins, and leaflets giving advice on how to avoid loan sharks. This mismatch of multi-purpose usage highlights the absurdity of such spaces having to be used to provide people with their most basic necessities.
When shooting the images Tom had to fit himself around volunteers setting up for the next session, and making sure he was discreet, disappearing before individuals had come to use the service. He made efforts to ensure he didn’t “fetishise” or “romanticise” the spaces in any way, using simply a digital camera and natural lighting.
One of the few images that does include a figure is one taken at the makeshift reception area in one of the food banks. It shows one of the volunteers sat at a desk, another blurred, busy setting up for the day ahead. The image is one that has stayed with Tom. “It encapsulates the start of a food bank journey,” Tom says. “Having stepped over the threshold you now have to describe the dire situation that’s led to you needing food support.” While the volunteers work hard to make the experiences and environment as welcoming as possible – as shown by things like the vase of flowers in the shot – the clerical aspect of the image also shows how bound they are by systems. People aren’t able to get food without a formal referral from an agency, leaving individuals who aren’t visible on formal systems even more vulnerable, Tom explains.
In the space of just a decade under a Tory government, food bank usage across the UK has risen by 4000%. Statistics from the Trussell Trust show that in 2010, 61,000 parcels of food were given out by food banks; over 2020 that figure had risen to 2.5 million. Tom hopes his images reflect the enormity of these figures and the wider systemic issues that cause such spikes. “To me it feels like the main issue of our times, so fundamentally linked to a housing crisis, driven by soaring rents, an inability for anyone to afford to buy a house without inherited wealth. Our society feels like it’s set up to drive a disparity between rich and poor,” Tom ends. “This is the UK in 2023, people are starving.”
GalleryTom Skipp: Food Banks (Copyright © Tom Skipp, 2023)
Tom Skipp: Foodbanks (Copyright © Tom Skipp, 2023)
About the Author
Olivia (she/her) joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English literature and history, she’s particularly interested in photography, publications and type design.