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AFC Unity: AFC Unity's Campaign for Social Change

Food poverty is an issue in Britain today. It affects people right here in our own city, and the statistics are shocking. In 2010, there were three food banks in Sheffield. There are now an estimated 16, alongside other community food provision and assistance schemes, according to the Sheffield Food Strategy. There are approximately 40,000 people in Sheffield living in food poverty and over 30,000 people in Sheffield are malnourished. Trussell Trust's latest figures show there were over a million three-day emergency food supplies given to people in crisis by their network of 424 food banks in 2015-16. Compare this with the statistic that between 1April 2011 and 31 March 2012, there were128,697 three-day emergency food supplies given to people in crisis”. That is a dramatic increase. You'll hear people argue that food bank use has increased because more people know they exist. In fact, the people working at the food banks, talking to those who utilise these services, actually find it is because of reasons such as static incomes, rising living costs, low pay, underemployment and problems with welfare. Trussell Trust found that in this last year, benefit delays and changes remain the biggest causes of food bank use, accounting for 42% of all referrals (28% benefit delay and 14% changes). Low income accounts for 23% of referral causes. This is backed up by the Sheffield Food Report (2013), which stated that: “The main driver [of food poverty] is lack of income driven by low wages, unemployment, unfair access to the benefit system and poor performance by the benefit system.” Meanwhile, The Diocese of Sheffield Research (2015) found “benefit delays, errors and sanctions are cited as the main reason that people are hungry and struggling to eat.” We can't ignore the effects of food prices either, which have increased by 12% in real terms over the last five years. Highlighting these facts about food poverty, how it has increased so dramatically over the last few years, and the reasons why, is a key part of the Football for Food campaign by AFC Unity, a Sheffield-based indie women's football club and not-for-profit community organisation. As part of Football for Food, we collect food at our home games and events to distribute to local food banks via Sheffield Food Collective. We see the club as an agent for social change. We believe that as well as creating an environment based on fairness, equality, unity, anti-discrimination, anti-bullying, 100% positivity and empowerment – which are all central to shaping AFC Unity’s environment at trainings, games and club events – an alternative club should also try and change things around it as well. Our Football for Food campaign enables us to do this by raising as much food as we possibly can to help people in our city, right now. Since starting the campaign in 2015, we have collected 339kg of food at 11 events for Sheffield food banks, but we also use the club as a tool to raise awareness of the extent of, and reasons for, food poverty. Football is an incredibly popular sport, enabling us to have conversations and interactions with people we might not have had otherwise. It can be a way of breaking down boundaries between people and groups. Especially when removing the money from the game and remembering its community roots, it can be a powerful force for social change. AFC Unity received funding from the Big Lottery Fund and Freshgate Trust Foundation to expand our Football for Food campaign, which included us holding our first ever five-a-side tournament at the U-Mix Centre, where we collected 915 items, approximately 355kg of food. This is more food than we collected in 11 events since starting the campaign in 2015. We had teams from London, Bristol, Leeds and Sheffield taking part in the tournament. In total, through the expansion events we have so far collected 1,118 items of food, approximately 432kg. We will be carrying on collecting food at our home games when the season restarts in September. You can read more about AFC Unity's Football for Food campaign and events at afcunity.org. )

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