A charity at the frontline of the cost-of-living crisis is celebrating its 10th anniversary this month. PETER BARRON talks to the inspirational grandma who made it happen…

AS she looks across the windswept sands to the remains of the blast furnace that was once the heartbeat of Redcar’s steelworks, Ruth Fox reflects on the events of 10 years ago and smiles at her naïvety.

Having been asked by her church to launch the town’s first foodbank, she'd badly underestimated the scale of the task.

Reality dawned when a mother walked the 12 miles from Loftus, just to pick up a food parcel, before trekking home again.

“I was terribly naïve,” Ruth admits. “One foodbank was nowhere near enough – it was clear straight away that we had to do a lot more.”

And she did. Ten years on, the wonderful charity Ruth decided to call Footprints in the Community has grown beyond her wildest expectations.

The name was inspired by her late mother’s favourite poem, Footprints in the Sand, which tells how two sets of footprints become one during the writer’s lowest and most troubled times. “It was then that I carried you,” explains God.

Under Ruth’s leadership, Footprints in the Community has been carrying vulnerable people for a decade, becoming a lifeline to thousands of people in Redcar and surrounding communities.

Using Christian faith to make a difference to people’s lives runs in Ruth’s family. Her late parents, Keith and Win Barker, were missionaries in the Congo and, when they returned from Africa, her dad became a Baptist minister in Liverpool.

The couple later retired to Redcar to be close to Win's family, who lived in Stockton, and Ruth followed them after falling in love with the area during a holiday.

Now living in Marske, she originally worked in administration for Redcar social services, going on to be manager of Nightstop, a charity providing emergency accommodation for homeless people on Teesside.

Her husband, Geoff, was a specialist foster carer and, in 2010, the couple decided to take a break from work to tour Australia.

They bought a car and caravan in Perth, and were inspired by the work they saw churches were doing in the community. Once back home, while Geoff got a job as a digger driver at Redcar steelworks, Ruth asked Redcar Baptist Church minister, the Rev Phil Dixon, if she could set up a community café.

“I’d seen one in Brisbane and loved how it brought the community together. I thought it was a great way to share my faith,” she recalls.

The café started by opening for a couple of hours, one day a week, and it quickly thrived. In the meantime, Rev. Dixon had been approached by church members about the need for a foodbank and, though reluctant at first, Ruth was persuaded to get it going.

Redcar Area Foodbank, launched as a Churches Together project, grew into Footprints in the Community, with the constitution signed on Boxing Day, 2012, and its first food parcel being delivered on January 30, 2013.

Other churches agreed to host foodbanks and Ruth's role was formalised as an employee. She became chief executive five years ago, the same year the charity moved into its current base in Redcar's Queen Street.

Today, Footprints in the Community runs nine foodbanks – three in Redcar, and others in Saltburn, Brotton, Dormanstown, Normanby, South Bank, and Grangetown – but it makes a much deeper imprint through a range of other services.

For example, men coming to the foodbanks began saying there was nowhere for them to go, other than down the pub or to the bookies, and Ruth remembered a ‘Men’s Shed’ she’d seen in Australia.

Geoff left his job as a digger driver to repeat the model on the ground floor of the Queen Street HQ, creating a place for men to dabble in woodwork, make things, watch TV, play dominoes, and have a natter.

“Men don’t talk face to face, they talk shoulder to shoulder while they’re working. When they're not working anymore, they lose that sounding board," says Ruth.

"Redcar has one of the highest suicide rates among men, and we know the Men’s Shed has saved lives. There was one man who was walking down to the sea to end his life, but someone stopped him and told him about the Men's Shed. He turned back, gave it a try, and he’s still here.”

When women said they wanted to join in, a “Women’s Shed” was set up, and the two workshops have now been combined into a place simply called “The Shed”.

Other initiatives include two Next Step Shops, where customers can pay £3 once a week to choose ten items paid for by the charity, plus fresh fruit and veg, bread and pastries donated by supermarkets. Money management courses are also offered, and an advice and support worker was appointed last year.

'Lunchbox' was a project added in response to children missing out on free school meals during the holidays. Over four weeks in August, children and their parents can take part in fun activities and go home with a picnic.

'First Steps' recycles pre-loved baby clothes and equipment, 'Art Space' is a weekly art group, and 'Book Club' – led by former Redcar MP Anna Turley – distributes packs of new books in schools.

More recently, 'Reflections' has been introduced as a weekly dementia support group, while 'Bridging the Gap' involves pre-school children being taken in to a local care home to interact with elderly residents.

The charity, funded by grants and donations, employs 20 people, backed up by an army of volunteers, and helped more than 7,000 people last year.

"With the cost-of-living crisis, we're seeing a massive increase in demand," says Ruth.

"Foodbank referrals were up 66 per cent in the last quarter, and we have someone who came for a food parcel, then had to borrow a camping stove from a neighbour because he couldn't afford to heat his meal.

"We need a bigger building, and better income streams through corporate partnerships, because we have to keep on growing. That's sad but it's the reality.

"We have to be God's hands and feet – carrying people when times are tough for them."

Down by her own feet, looking up lovingly, is Jasper, her collie-cross, who comes to work with her, and serves as a therapy dog.

He's a rescue dog, of course, because that's what Ruth Fox has chosen to do with her life – come to the rescue of those in need of help.