Juli Thompson – teacher, chef, charity worker- is President of the Rotary Club of Bradford Bronte, and has spent much of her working life  in Bradford. She endeared herself to us when she came to talk to the club by assuring us that although she has her passport from Bradford, she is a Leeds lass at heart. She also quoted her son in law, who says that the best thing to come out of Bradford is the number 72 bus to Leeds. This was a joke. Something very good has come out of Bradford.

Juli runs a charity called Inn Churches. She started it fifteen years ago, setting up a winter shelter in Bradford, working with homeless people, getting them off the streets and into churches. Inn Churches now is a registered charity with twelve staff. Over time they acquired a 6,000 square foot warehouse and became adept at acquiring donated fresh food, which they would repurpose and share among other charities. They aimed to bridge the gap left by three day emergency food packs, by adding fresh fruit and vegetables.

Juli is acutely aware of the problems faced by people who struggle to put food on the table, with their only wiggle room being their food budget. Food poverty causes mental health issues and is a blight on the educational opportunities of children.

She acknowledges that Food Banks have an important role, but watching fit young people become dependent on them, she saw the danger of trapping people in dependency. Observing that ‘food isn’t free’, she is guided by the  maxim of John D Rockefeller that charity is injurious unless it helps the recipient to live independently.

As the country emerged from the pandemic, Juli set up a new model, ‘Food Savers’, which provides needy people with nourishing fresh food at the same time as giving them self respect by encouraging them to save. For a payment of a £5 note and a £1 coin every week to a local pantry, a member gets food for the £5 note, while the £1 coin is invested on their behalf with a credit union. The saving of such a modest amount turns out to have a powerful psychological effect on people who have never saved before. Once in the habit, people tend to find a bit extra to put away.

Thus ‘Food Savers’ started in Bradford. Soon there were three other pantries in Leeds. The concept has spread: 18 pantries in Bradford are now using the same model. There are pantries in Kirkstall, Little London, Horsforth and Headingley. Calderdale came on board, and there are now some 1,200 customers. In just over 3 years 409 people saved £47,500 with a credit union and the numbers are growing.

Juli told us that she is now getting inquiries from all over UK, and has recently been invited to the USA to give them insight into how to merge credit unions with food banks.

At the end of an interesting talk, Juli referred us to the Food  Savers website, from which I quote.


FoodSavers offers high quality fresh and store cupboard food for a low weekly membership fee (typically £6). Much of our food is unwanted or surplus food, intercepted from being wasted. Membership also gives you the opportunity to save in a recognised Credit Union scheme, and enjoy other benefits, such as cookery classes, haircuts or volunteering.

Our pilot study in Bradford painted a compelling picture of guests accessing the FoodSavers service feeling empowered to feed their families, pleased at having the choice and flexibility to pick their own food and grateful to contribute towards feeding themselves rather than relying on handouts.

Members can make their own decisions and choices. FoodSavers normalises the shopping experience rather than the foodbank experience, and aims to build self-worth. It is intended to be a time-limited intervention, enabling people to get to a point where they no longer need to make use of the service, but can continue to embed its principles in their everyday life.

Such a worthwhile charity: we thank Juli for coming to tell us all about it.


Get in touch with Roundhay Rotary Club:

0113 266 6203