Cher Smith MBE, 58, is project manager at Swindon Foodbank, which recently announced that it would offer a new support service – Money Life - as well as food, allowing clients to tackle issues such as debt. Cher lives in Swindon. Her husband, Phil, died in 2015. The two had worked together, running the Threshold Housing Link homelessness charity. Cher has a son, a stepson and a stepdaughter.

LAST year Swindon Foodbank helped 4,619 adults and 1,740 children. It has seven distribution centres and hopes to add an eighth.

“Most people are just about managing,” said Cher Smith, “but you don’t need much of a spanner to be thrown in the works to set you off kilter these days.

“Everybody is on a very tight budget, and something as drastic as a bereavement or something as simple as buying school uniforms can throw the budget off balance.

“You’ve got to juggle, and a lot of people are robbing Peter to pay Paul. In winter time there’s the fuel issue. Do you keep warm or do you keep fed? That’s not just families, that’s elderly people as well. There is a whole tranche of people out there that I believe we’re missing, especially the elderly, because they don’t know that they’re entitled, when they have a problem, to come forward and ask for this sort of help.

“There’s a huge element of pride. There are a lot of people out there who think, ‘I’ve never asked for charity in my life.’ But food is a basic requirement and that’s what we’re here to provide.

“It’s mainly families we’re seeing, and it’s mainly families who are just managing.”

One client was a woman who had begun a fairly high-ranking job with a major local employer. She had previously stayed at home to care for her autistic son, but as he became older she and her husband decided it would be better if she worked instead.

“Her husband had taken a career change and is now the main carer at home, but the taxman took so much money out of her first wage packet that she didn’t know what to do.”

The woman happened to see the Foodbank van outside her workplace, noted down the phone number and called.“And yes, we were able to help.”

Cher is originally from Ware in Hertfordshire, and comes from a Forces family. She admits that the urge to help others has been with her since an early age.

“I was a St John’s Cadet, and as part of that I used to volunteer at a children’s home at weekends.

“From there I went into nursing. I was going to be a doctor and I had two years to wait to get into the Royal Free, so in that time I went nursing to get a qualification.

“Then, just as my place came up I decided to get married, so that career pathway changed.”

Cher began working as a nurse in the mid-1970s and stayed in the profession until almost the end of the century.

Following a stint in Gibraltar as a civilian contractor, Cher applied for a part-time job with the organisation which would eventually become Threshold Housing Link, organising medical care for homeless people. She eventually led the organisation and her husband, Phil, also had a senior role. Together they took Threshold to the forefront of its sector.

“I left after Phil died. I just couldn’t go back. We worked together for 22 or 23 years. Between us we brought the project to where it is.

“My life changed so much after Phil died. I didn’t think I’d ever be able to start again, really. But this came along and it seemed right, so I’ve started a new life and a new career. But it’s still helping people. I can’t get away from helping people.”

Cher has also helped the community as a counsellor, playgroup leader, Victim Support worker, Beaver leader and in various other roles including one with the SWADS health and wellbeing charity.

The Foodbank, which Cher joined last summer, is steadily expanding its scope. It is involved, for example, with Great Western Hospital.

“We’re now working with the discharge team, trying to get people home from hospital faster. A big stumbling block is when people have got nobody to shop for them. We offer a food parcel to get them home and that’s helping to reduce the bed blocking at the hospital.

“So it has wider implications, this project. It’s like stones on a pond. You drop one little stone, which could be a food parcel, and you watch the ripples go out.”

The latest venture, Money Life, is intended to tackle some of the issues which can lead to people having to use the Foodbank.

“Money Life is about letting people know what they’re entitled to. It’s about helping them through a very bureaucratic system if they don’t know what their benefit entitlement is, and it’s about having somebody who has no power to sit with them and say, ‘Have you thought about this? Have you thought about that? Look at this. Go there.’ And then leaving them to take control of their life and their financial situation.

“There’s £16.6 billion of benefit not claimed because people don’t know they’re entitled to it or the system makes it so bureaucratic that they can’t do it. Or it’s online and they’re not given any help to go online.”

The Foodbank needs to raise £40,000 this year in order to continue providing its vital services.

“If everybody can donate £1 and pop it into their can, if 40,000 people in Swindon did that it would be cool!”

The Foodbank welcomes not just donations from the public but also offers of help from businesses, whether financial or practical.

In 2010, Cher’s years of charity work saw her made an MBE. She is modest about the honour.

“It’s about your doing it for everyone around you, but you can only do it with the help of others. So it was a team effort, really, with Phil, with everybody at Threshold, and everybody I’ve worked with in playgroups or charities or Scouts. You would never have got that recognition if you hadn’t had everyone behind you.”

The Foodbank’s website is