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UHI Inverness seeks help for student food bank support

By Gregor White

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UHI Inverness project manager Kelly MacKenzie was running The Larder when it opened last year. Picture: UHI Inverness
UHI Inverness project manager Kelly MacKenzie was running The Larder when it opened last year. Picture: UHI Inverness

Support provided by UHI Inverness for students struggling with the cost of living has had a positive impact it has been claimed.

Since April 2022 the college has rolled out a range of support including free toast for breakfast and free soup and a roll for lunch as well as provision of toiletries and warm coats, food bank vouchers, a free laundry service and The Larder - the campus’s own food bank.

As part of an application to Highland Council’s Inverness Common Good Fund for £14,000 to help with the purchase of food for The Larder going forward, the college claims collectively its initiatives have provided demonstrable benefits.

“Since the inception of our breakfast/lunch initiative and the larder, there has been a significant positive impact; between 1/11/22 and 1/3/23, 400 students withdrew from their course,” the college said in its funding application.

“In the following year, between 1/11/2023 and 1/3/2024, 249 students withdrew.

“This is a drop of 38 per cent, or 151 students, who were successfully retained on their course, improving their future outcomes.”

The college also cited testimony from students themselves who have spoke of the benefits they have experienced.

One student said: “As a single parent of four children, money at can be really tight, the cubby and Larder has really helped me in my moments of need.”

Another stated: “This cubby has been an absolute god send for me, I am studying nursing which is a packed full time course which means I cannot work so much and therefore have much less money than I used to have and this has helped me so many times with having something to eat when I needed.”

Another said: “When financially struggling I know that I can count on support from the Larder to have something to eat or to advise someone from my cohort to go there to find help”

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In its application the college added: “In the last few months in particular, we have had many requests for food from students, especially on Fridays to sustain them over the weekend and before holiday periods.

“We’ve also noted a significant uptake from our senior phase pupils who attend college a day a week and are using this food bank.

“There is clearly a considerable need for access to our food bank by our students in the current economic climate.”

Looking to keep the current Larder provision going they also want to expand to make specific support available for nursing, optometry, and oral health sciences students based at UHI House next to Raigmore Hospital.

“To date, this provision has largely been run via donation. However, we are combining efforts to provide a robust package of support to the student population of Inverness,” they said.

“Sustaining studies and successfully completing a qualification have longer-term benefits in terms of employability and filling skills gaps in our local economy, including the NHS, so wider benefits can be gained.”

Previous support from the Common Good Fund for the college’s breakfast and lunch support has helped make this “sustainable” they said.

“We hope to do the same with The Larder and hope to also make this part of our ongoing support to students through looking at alternative and sustainable funding options,” they added.

Despite that hope a sub-committee considering applications to the Common Good Fund is recommending councillors at the city of Inverness area committee refuse the college’s application on Monday on the grounds of “insufficient community benefit” as well as worries that providing support “would set a precedent which would not be sustainable.”

The total grants budget was reduced from £275,000 in 2022/23 to £161,000 in 2023/24.

UHI Inverness declined to comment on the recommendation to the committee ahead of its meeting.

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