Covid-19 and our gardening - please read

So many people have done amazing things over the past few months and we thought we’d bring some of them together to talk about their experiences. We know that the situation in Lambeth has been particularly challenging, as thousands of people find themselves without support and without recourse to public funds, without sufficient food for their families.

But what has it felt like to be witnessing this huge increase in demand for basic essentials? We have asked several people to tell us about their challenges and how they have met the need.

Watch the zoom event here or listen here or read the (rough) transcript below with start time for each speaker

Tracey Ford, JAGS Foundation  52secs Sunday Best programme – those who’ve lost out because they relied on their grandma, sister or aunt for their sunday dinner. Families needing to cook every day – no school meals. SB is ‘cook caribbean’ – virtual cooking show 1-2pm every Sunday showing how to cook traditional rice and chicken. Provision of Sunday Best meal has grown from the first Sunday of 43 meals, to 228 cooked dinners for families, single homeless people living in hostels, less abled people in the community. Organisations are contacting every week with details on families with no recourse to public funds. Hearty, healthy, nutritious hot sunday meal. Numbers still increasing. Buying the food, some donations.

Jojo Sureh, Cook to Care 5.30mins Pre Covid – preventative rehabilitation work with ex young offenders. In 10th week of Cook to Care – piloting rehab programme with HMP Wandsworth when lockdown announced. Programme suspended, so started doing online workshops for young offenders about to leave prison. Basic training – from washing veg to cooking. Left me with 80 meals in my freezer – started providing to locals. Realised that the programme was going to be suspended but also realised that there was a great need in Streatham. First to fourth week 40 – 80 – 150 – 500 meals, now 180-250 meals per day leaving flat. Croydon, Lambeth, Lewisham, Southwark and Wandsworth.  Self funded, then Go Fund Me. Once referred, can provide a service throughout to other end, evolved from just food to other services with other charities. Now moved into Marcus Lipton Centre, much easier to co-ordinate volunteers. Hard to access funds initially, but now established, getting external support. People referred, those who cannot access public services from local authority. 15 volunteers on rotation, 5 a day – 2 people cooking, 3 more organising packaging, labelling etc.

Elizabeth Maytum, Norwood and Brixton Food Bank 12.30mins Normally 3 distribution points in Norwood, Brixton and Streatham. Within a day of announcement of lockdown, couldn’t do face to face, moved to warehouse in Streatham. Electronic referrals from partners, pick, pack and deliver. Fed in excess of 8,500 people from end of March to now. 8-10tonnes of food given away each week. Parcels are all individual to need of family. Signposting service too – no recourse to public funds mums, packs for kids etc. Trying to recreate remotely what we would normally do face to face. Barkham Avenue, Streatham – British Gas, loads of vehicles, huge project. Would love not to be there, grateful to campaigns like footballer Rashford getting free school meals. Helpers mostly volunteers, a few paid staff.

Candice James, Loughborough Community Centre at Max Roach 17mins Team of six, deliver a range of children and family services. Lockdown was an anxious time for the parents, the team came together to think about how to keep in touch. Contact calls were not enough, as safeguarding issues were rising. April should have been Holiday Play Project, so devised ‘Happy Lunch’, an emergency response project and adaptation of the Holiday Play Project – a free lunch three times a week with play resources. What hadn’t expected was that they would be only engagement with their families – no contact from schools or other children’s centres. Realised that the children loved the contact time, know that home is not a safe place for many of their families. Engaged 71 families and reaching 140 children delivered 4179 lunches, secured funding for next five weeks until adapt into a summer project. Happy Lunch will continue through the whole summer period. Survey – 75% parents reported that they had less money, 55% had less food. Happy Lunch is so much more than a meal. Moved fast, had no funding initially, but pumped everything into this project – proud of workers and their quick response.

Sarah Coyte: Community Engagement Team at Lambeth Council 25mins Quick response by Council – crisis helpline set up on 25th March, food hub set up 27th March at Brixton Rec, not long after that, Black Prince Trust hub set up. 8,000 calls, distributed through hubs (eg children’s centres) 18,500 food packages. Call volume on helpline is decreasing, so demand from individuals is reducing, but not the case through the hubs – ‘bulk requests’. Black Prince Trust now not operational, Brixton Rec still operating. Conversation needed now: how and when we transition from providing food packages to working more supportively to enable voluntary and community sector to do what they do best, with Council’s support. Conversations looking to have with partners to help shape this.

Victoria Sherwin: Myatt’s Fields Project 30mins When lockdown started, stopped volunteering and started growing veg from seed. Distributed seedlings to 200 households. Backyard farming now being developed in unused spaces – using bigger spaces to grow on food for neighbourhoods.

Janie Bickersteth: Incredible Edible Lambeth 32mins Funding from London Community Response Fund enabled IEL to establish a project to help people grow food from home. Now have 200 new growers in the borough, each one is encouraged to hand on seedlings to ten households or people who would value some extra food. Also working with Capital Growth to get more people to grow surplus in their community gardens. 

Virginia Nimarkoh, Lambeth Larder Community Food Resource 34mins Lambeth Larder came out of a pilot action research project Lambeth Food Insecurity project. Connect people to emergency food and other support. Do that by sharing free resources – website and paper directory distributed through networks – food banks, Gp surgeries, children’s centres. During Covid19, none of this distribution possible, so needed to go online, but many of the people who need the resources wouldn’t necessarily have access to digital platforms. Connect different sectors and networks – cross sector response to food poverty – not just food issue, issue of economic deprivation, sectors not talking to each other exacerbates the problem. Mapping new providers, looking at how the sector has changed during Covid19?  Mapping for Change – producing an online map of resources under Covid that are still available for people – including food aid services, community kitchens, connecting groups. Working to strengthen the sector – no volunteer centre in Lambeth, so no immediate place to be connected. This has been a stumbling block during this crisis. As a voluntary sector, we’re all operating separately, need an advocate for us all. Call out to anyone wanting their service listed through the website, the leaflet or the new map.


Where did you find funding?

Jojo – self funding and Go Fund Me, monetary donations from public, struggled to access funding through local authority. Long term contract with a church to supply perishable goods.

Tracey – crowdfunded £6000 in 6 weeks. Also funding from Lambeth, LCRF. Constantly looking for funding. More info from Tracey: JAGS Foundation running for 10 years and has received a fair amount of funding, but always fund-raising. Virginia helped find kitchens, 2 community chefs.

Elizabeth – gets food donated from FairShare, City Harvest and Local Greens and part of neighbourly scheme, so can pick up from supermarkets when there is excess food.

What challenges do people see coming and what support do you think people need?

Jojo – idea that Covid is going to end and with that, our services will no longer be needed. This makes me worried that the support I am getting will not be lasting – perception that this is only Covid response work – I had always planned this kind of work. People who could help me long term seem to think that I should only be strategizing through Covid. Now looking at other paths for support as the demand is increasing. Service will continue whilst the need continues. Funding of resources and spaces precarious.

Tracey – a lot of people go unnoticed, they are not being picked up or looked after. This has come about through Covid, but we are not talking about people accessing healthy good food. Lambeth as a borough needs to recognise that not everyone is going to talk about food, not everyone is going to talk about children eating out of the chicken shop, how do we know that children are accessing good food at home? Must be mindful that these are going to be the same problems after Covid.

Tori – Tracey has summed up what we need to be doing – collaboration.

Janie – dealing with escalating numbers, it’s not going away, collectively we need to get this message out, share information. We hope to work collaboratively to address these issues of (food) poverty across the borough.

End of session