DENIS Curran can tell of the family who slept in a wardrobe, the man who lost his benefits for being two minutes late for an appointment, the friend who was passed fit to work just 10 days before he was diagnosed as terminally ill.

But, first, he reflects on the moment he met the Queen.

Curran, 73, is the chairman of Loaves and Fishes, a charity that provides food for those who do not have it. He has been performing this service for 25 years. He has not taken a penny for it; not one of the people at Loaves and Fishes does.

But Curran did receive an MBE.

“Nobody wants to know, not even the Queen,” he says of the crisis that has engulfed the vulnerable. “I was told before I received my award: ‘You will know when the Queen is finished. She will put her hand out’.”

Here’s how it went.

Queen: “I believe you work with charity?”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

Queen: “Are you busy?”

“In East Kilbride alone we feed over 1000 families.”

The hand then came out.

Curran does not condemn. He knows no-one wants to hear bad news. It has gone from bad to desperate, though. “Last Christmas was the worst I have witnessed in 24 years. We had a queue right around our unit in East Kilbride,” he says.

“I have never seen so many sad people in all my life. Kids upset, not understanding why their parents are crying.”

He points out that when he started with Loaves and Fishes the charity gave out about 80 parcels of found, mostly to pensioners or the bed-ridden. At Christmas, he stops counting when it reaches 1000. “In three days we handed out 700,” he says.

He is talking softly in Renfield St Stephens’ Church centre in Bath Street, Glasgow, where he organises two dinners for the needy every week, with a third being added in the winter months. “The homeless have always been with us,” he says. “But the food banks have exploded.”

He adds: “I am not a political person but I believe the solution is simple. Food banks did not exist until the Conservative government cut benefits under David Cameron. The benefit system too has introduced stringent sanctions. So benefits can be taken from people who turn up late or miss an appointment.

“I know a man who had his benefit stopped because he didn’t attend. His wife had a miscarriage that day.”

Curran also points out that the Care in the Community scheme, introduced by the Thatcher regime, has simply moved people with mental health issues from hospitals on to the streets. “Walk some streets of Glasgow at night and you will see someone sleeping in every doorway,” he says.

He sips his tea and tells stories that chill the heart, tales from another world and one that exists just outside the church – just, mercifully, outside the experience of the fortunate.

“We hadn’t seen a guy who comes for a meal for a while. I went up to his house and he told me he had been passed fit for work. He could hardly walk. I told him we could help him appeal it but he said it didn’t matter. He told me he had been diagnosed as terminally ill 10 days after he was passed fit for work.”

Curran has immersed himself in this world for almost a quarter of a century. “I was at that time of life when I wanted to do something for others,” he says. “I met the then chairman of Loaves and Fishes and he asked me if I could drive. I said yes and I delivered furniture to those who needed it.

“We don’t touch furniture now. It’s all about feeding people but it was a big part of our work then. I went to a house in Pollok and it changed my life. The house had a mother and father, two young children, with another on the way. The total contents of the house was a double wardrobe. This lay on the living room floor and that was their bed. That touched me. I had never seen anything like that before. That changed my life.

“I got involved and the charity helped the kids have a happy Christmas, maybe the first time Santa had come for them. I would love to say that life for them was happy ever after. It wasn’t. The kids eventually got taken into care. I learned a lesson. Never to get personally involved.”

But Curran, a former joiner, kept working for the charity, making the difference for thousands of families over the years. He is helped by his wife Cathy and a bank of volunteers. Loaves and Fishes requires £650 to pay for the rent for the warehouse in East Kilbride every month. It spends £1500 a month on food.

This is all supplied by donations. “We had a secret millionaire for a while,” he says. “But he passed on.”

The work continues. There is an irony at the heart of the continued endeavours. “Sometimes officials come to me and ask me how they can help. I reply: ‘Shut me down’. This is 2017 in a modern society, a supposed leader of the world and people are going hungry. The social work departments come to us for parcels. That’s right: we fund the government.”

Curran knows there are the misguided who cry “benefit cheats” at every opportunity.

“There are those who will say: ‘They are all at it’. Everybody knows somebody who is cheating on benefits, it seems. There will be those who cheat the system – some of them are MPs who claim false expenses and some are companies who do not pay their share of tax and some might receive benefits they are not due.

“But I have news for people. There is a reason that the number of food banks has grown. Our warehouse is in the middle of an industrial estate. You don’t walk three or four miles for a food parcel in pouring rain with a couple of kids if you don’t need it.”

The demand for Loaves and Fishes has increased just as the charity itself needs help.

“The van is bust and the company that once paid our rent has stopped that,” he says. “But the money will come. I have no doubt it will come.”

Such faith is his sustenance in a world of increasing, debilitating hunger.



Inspiration: Prayer. I believe in prayer. People ask me how we get money. The answer? I pray.

Favourite books: John Grisham is my favourite. I also found Pavement for My Pillow by Chris Kitch very powerful.

Favourite music: Neil Diamond. I am looking forward to him coming to Glasgow. I have tickets.

Outside interests: I have four grandweans so that keeps me busy too.

Favourite place: I like to go to the top of a hill and switch off the engine of my car and sit in peace. I like sitting in silence. It is how I refresh myself.