Sheena is involved with one of our SRG projects in Manchester. She's 96, and her views on the current tough times, and those that have gone before, give us some useful reminders.

In difficult times, it can be reassuring to recall the steadfast values that have served us well before.

Our staff team here at Church Action on Poverty and our partners have been busy in the past few weeks talking to the people we work with, finding out how they are getting on, trying to be community ourselves, and also seeing where systems could yet be improved, to ensure nobody is left adrift.

A recent chat with Sheena, through one of our Self-Reliant Groups, heartened us greatly and reminded us that no matter how confusing and difficult the current journey may be, kindness, community and communication can help us all. Sheena is 96, so can remember more than most, and we thought we’d share some of her thoughts on the current situation, and also her memories of the late 1930s and early 1940s, when the Second World War broke out.

“Something I always remember from the war is that people shared. I had a lot of rhubarb in my garden and I would always go with bundles to the neighbours, and we had a holly tree too, so at Christmas I would go round with holly, because we all shared what we had. Lots of people where we lived had a share in an allotment if they didn’t have a garden, and everyone grew vegetables and looked to share things. Rationing was very tight, and we shared. I think that time is comparable to this time, although at least then you knew what you were fighting. This is more an unknown quantity.”

Sheena was at school in Alloa near Stirling when the war started, but soon went to work in a bank after the male staff were called up. She later worked in a solicitor’s office and then the Post Office.

“The mail always had to get through, war or no war. It was very important. Letters were very important for people, whether you were in the war or not.”

Sheena married after the war and she and her husband, who had been in the Russian convoys, moved to Birmingham. Her husband went to work at the GEC, and Sheena worked as a hospital receptionist.

I loved working in the hospital and being able to help people, I remember I always said I would treat people exactly the way I would like to be treated.

I think that’s still true – sometimes people might just need a cup of tea or a phone call.

“I live at Limelight in Manchester now and am having to stay in my flat. My son lives not too far away and he does my shopping, and he has grandchildren as well, but it’s hard to get across to the children what’s happening. My great-grandchildren are two and four and it’s very difficult to tell children they cannot see people.

“I am glad to have lived this long and I am old now, but I would still like to survive and community is important. The telephone is so important for me. I did use a computer when I worked as a hospital receptionist but I didn’t carry it on and I couldn’t do it now. But good communication and kindness are important. Laura from the SRG is lovely to us. We’re in a good position here. People survive with support from one another, there’s no doubt about that. I think in a crisis, the best comes out in people. Just look how much money that man [Captain Tom Moore] raised in his garden – it brings out the best in people and we can pull together.”

Over the past month, we’ve seen a lot of pulling together. We know times are very strange and perhaps disconcerting at the moment, but if we pull together like we have done in the past, then we can pull through together.

Sheena’s memories of sharing surpluses, keeping open the vital lines of communication and treating others as we’d like to be treated are timeless, loving values. They’ve never been lost, but we see them very clearly now in the mutual aid and neighbourhood support groups that have sprung up all around us.

Our work at Church Action on Poverty is always centred around compassionate community, and communal campaigns. None of us should be left adrift. We all need one another, and we can all support one another. If we can do that now, and once this is all over, we’ll create lasting change.

Sheffield Poverty Update August 2020

Vacancy: Your Local Pantry Scottish Development Worker

Vacancy: Challenge Poverty Week Intern

A Fair and Just Future for Cornwall

How one estate pulled together and how covid could change it forever

The Collective, Pilot – Church responses to the crisis

Sheffield Poverty Update August 2020

Vacancy: Your Local Pantry Scottish Development Worker

Vacancy: Challenge Poverty Week Intern

Our Empowerment Programme Officer Ben Pearson wrote this poem as part of a workshop run by Church Action on Poverty's poet in digital residence Matt Sowerby.

Universal credit,
You prepare me for work.
You motivate me,
Mend me.
You are,
Not a joke.

Universal credit,
You joke with me.
You mock me,
Break me.
You are,
Laughing at me.


During the pandemic, Matt Sowerby is Church Action on Poverty’s poet in digital residence. He is helping our partners and supporters to respond creatively to the virus and lockdown, with weekly online workshops.

Food Power Empowerment Programme Officer

Sheffield Poverty Update August 2020

Vacancy: Your Local Pantry Scottish Development Worker

Vacancy: Challenge Poverty Week Intern

A Fair and Just Future for Cornwall

How one estate pulled together and how covid could change it forever

The Collective, Pilot – Church responses to the crisis

Sheffield Poverty Update August 2020

Vacancy: Your Local Pantry Scottish Development Worker

Vacancy: Challenge Poverty Week Intern

Church Action on Poverty supporter Liz Delafield wrote this poem as part of one of our weekly poetry workshops.

Nobody saw it coming
It changed everything.
All those things that seemed important yesterday,
Ofsted, SATs, spreadsheets of
data, observations,
suddenly wasn’t.
We began to realise what was.
People,
keeping safe,
being happy,
little things like soap.

May we always remember
how it felt,
when the unimportant
important things came
crashing down.
Yet with them important
important things.

Like…
A child’s hand held in safety,
Laughter of a game played
together with friends.
A trip to the zoo,
Lining up for school dinners,
Story time and reading books (in
real life, not online),
Walking with you and helping
you grow,
Saying goodbye with hugs and
handshakes.

And when we emerge once
again,
Instead of going back to normal,
May we go ahead, remembering
what we missed, and what we
didn’t.

During the coronavirus pandemic, our poet in digital residence Matt Sowerby is running weekly online workshops to help our partners and supporters respond creatively to the impact of the virus and lockdown.

Sheffield Poverty Update August 2020

Vacancy: Your Local Pantry Scottish Development Worker

Vacancy: Challenge Poverty Week Intern

A Fair and Just Future for Cornwall

How one estate pulled together and how covid could change it forever

The Collective, Pilot – Church responses to the crisis

Sheffield Poverty Update August 2020

Vacancy: Your Local Pantry Scottish Development Worker

Vacancy: Challenge Poverty Week Intern

Matt Sowerby shared this poem in one of his workshops as Church Action on Poverty's poet in digital residence.

During the coronavirus pandemic, Matt is running weekly online workshops to help our partners and supporters respond creatively to the impact of the virus and lockdown.

Sheffield Poverty Update August 2020

Vacancy: Your Local Pantry Scottish Development Worker

Vacancy: Challenge Poverty Week Intern

A Fair and Just Future for Cornwall

How one estate pulled together and how covid could change it forever

The Collective, Pilot – Church responses to the crisis

Sheffield Poverty Update August 2020

Vacancy: Your Local Pantry Scottish Development Worker

Vacancy: Challenge Poverty Week Intern

Matt Sowerby shared this poem in one of his workshops as our poet in digital residence.

During the coronavirus pandemic, Matt is running weekly online workshops to help our partners and supporters respond creatively to the impact of the virus and lockdown.

Sheffield Poverty Update August 2020

Vacancy: Your Local Pantry Scottish Development Worker

Vacancy: Challenge Poverty Week Intern

Sheffield Poverty Update August 2020

Vacancy: Your Local Pantry Scottish Development Worker

Vacancy: Challenge Poverty Week Intern

Matt Sowerby is Church Action on Poverty's poet in digital residence during the coronavirus pandemic.

Here’s Matt performing ‘Breadlines’, the poem he wrote for our End Hunger campaign.

Through the pandemic, Matt is helping Church Action on Poverty’s partners and supporters to respond creatively to the impact of the virus and lockdown, with weekly workshops and inspirational online performances.

Workshops happen every Tuesday at 3:30pm.

Join us for a workshop – or just read and watch some of the poetry that’s been produced so far! 

Matt is compiling a book of the poems that have been written by people taking part in the workshops. If you have a poem to share, you can submit it using the link below.

Sheffield Poverty Update August 2020

Vacancy: Your Local Pantry Scottish Development Worker

Vacancy: Challenge Poverty Week Intern

virtual creativity

Weekly poetry workshop

virtual creativity

Weekly poetry workshop

Tuesdays, 3:30pm. Click the link to find out more.
Sign up here
creative writing

Read or watch poems

creative writing

Read or watch poems

See poems produced by Matt and others in our workshops.
Read poems
Share your writing

Submit your own poems

share your writing

Submit your own poems

Send your own poems to be published on the website or in a book.
Read poems

Sheffield Poverty Update August 2020

Vacancy: Your Local Pantry Scottish Development Worker

Vacancy: Challenge Poverty Week Intern

Do you have time on your hands during the lockdown? Our Communications Manager suggests some books, TV and podcasts that could keep you occupied – and help you understand UK poverty and campaigning better!

Read

Second Class Citizens: The treatment of disabled people in Austerity Britain by Stef Benstead

A powerful book by one of our trustees. Professor Peter Beresford, co-chair of Shaping Our Lives, said it provides “the definitive verdict on government welfare reform, the UK’s shame”. 

Poverty Safari: Understanding the anger of Britain’s underclass by Darren McGarvey

A challenging, personal perspective on UK poverty and how to tackle it, drawing
on Scottish rapper Loki’s own experiences of community activism and growing up in poverty.

The Shame Game: Overturning the toxic poverty narrative by Mary O’Hara

Crucially, this book about changing the portrayal of poverty draws on the insights of people who experience it.

Mission from Below: Building a kingdom community by Janet Hodgson and Stephen Conway

How two nuns worked alongside local people to loosen poverty’s grip in a North East community. An inspirational story of church on the margins.

Listen

Frame[s] of Mind

A podcast about how language can help change people’s perceptions of issues – by the Frameworks Institute, who have helped develop innovative new frames for talking about UK poverty.

Social Power

A podcast from the Sheila McKechnie Foundation about social change and how to bring it about. 

Sound Delivery

This organisation has a wide range of audio available on Soundcloud, all sharing stories from people who have experience of poverty and other issues, and whose voices aren’t usually heard.

Watch

Broken

This 2017 BBC TV series by Jimmy McGovern is about a Catholic priest in a poor Liverpool community. It’s a powerful depiction of how the church can make a difference by sharing in people’s brokenness on the margins of society. It touches on issues Church Action on Poverty has campaigned on, such as high-cost lending. It’s available to watch on Netflix or YouTube.

Communications and Supporter Relations Manager

Sheffield Poverty Update August 2020

Vacancy: Your Local Pantry Scottish Development Worker

Vacancy: Challenge Poverty Week Intern

A Fair and Just Future for Cornwall

How one estate pulled together and how covid could change it forever

The Collective, Pilot – Church responses to the crisis

A place to call home

Dozens join e-choir for rendition of a Disney classic

New songs for a strange land

Way Maker

Sheffield Poverty Update August 2020

Vacancy: Your Local Pantry Scottish Development Worker

Vacancy: Challenge Poverty Week Intern

Penny Walters wrote this poem as part of a poetry workshop run by our poet in digital residence Matt Sowerby.

i am hidden small and dainty
issues with health and motivation
my world is crumbling around me 
my pain is hidden from all to see 
but i have one thing 
i have a voice
abused and berated downcast
shunned by government and society
unloved and forgotten 
but i have a voice 
i use my voice 
loud and clear 
shout and scream
for all to hear
more articulate more knowledge and more motivation
i am here to help to use my voice 
to speak up for those who cant 
who are hidden like me 
who feel that there is no hope 
i have a voice 
Penny has been speaking out about her experiences through our Food Power programme. Click here to read her story.

Sheffield Poverty Update August 2020

Vacancy: Your Local Pantry Scottish Development Worker

Vacancy: Challenge Poverty Week Intern

A Fair and Just Future for Cornwall

How one estate pulled together and how covid could change it forever

The Collective, Pilot – Church responses to the crisis

Sheffield Poverty Update August 2020

Vacancy: Your Local Pantry Scottish Development Worker

Vacancy: Challenge Poverty Week Intern

Our weekly Zoom call, Gathering on the Margins, this week focussed on how the benefits system is/isn’t working during this crisis.

We are having these gatherings every Tuesday at 2 pm. Join us on Zoom to connect with people across the country to hear each other’s stories, discuss issues that we are facing and share advice.

Penny told us about how the self-employed are the among the hardest hit, especially those who haven’t been self-employed long enough to qualify for financial support. She says that the wait for those now applying for Universal Credit is astronomical, so people who were already on benefits are actually better off than those who previously had reasonable incomes.

Andrew from End Hunger Cornwall gave us an update on the situation in the South West. Cornwall is particularly affected because the local economy usually relies on the boost that is brought by holiday makers in the summer, and a lot of local people work seasonal jobs.

Paul Morrison from the Joint Public Issues Team gave us an insight into how the DWP is adapting to the increasing demand for Universal Credit, reorganising themselves so more people are working on dealing with the applications. However, Paul points out, the real problem is the people who have no recourse to public funds and can’t get support.

The discussion did not just focus on the current system. We also tried to radically reimagine what a welfare system that works for everyone could look like. Simon Duffy from the Centre for Welfare Reform told us about the work being done around the idea of Universal Basic Income, which would function as an economic floor that supports everyone. The idea of UBI has been around for a while, but the current crisis might give the it some political momentum.

Universal Basic Income would be a long-term solution, but Niall argued that we need a something quick and short-term first to help people get through the immediate crisis. He explained the concept of ‘helicopter money’ which would be a one-time emergency cash payment to every household in the country. It would not be means-tested because that would delay the money reaching those who really need it.

It is great to have these gatherings and brilliant that we are able to stay connected online. However, many people are severely isolated at the moment because they don’t have the necessary technology for staying connected or aren’t able to access to the internet. Fully aware of the irony of doing this on Zoom, next week we will be discussing the issue of Digital Exclusion.

Join us at 2 pm on Tuesday 28 April.

If you have any feedback or suggestions for these gatherings, contact me at felicity@church-poverty.org.uk

Sheffield Poverty Update August 2020

Vacancy: Your Local Pantry Scottish Development Worker

Vacancy: Challenge Poverty Week Intern

A Fair and Just Future for Cornwall

How one estate pulled together and how covid could change it forever

The Collective, Pilot – Church responses to the crisis

Sheffield Poverty Update August 2020

Vacancy: Your Local Pantry Scottish Development Worker

Vacancy: Challenge Poverty Week Intern

We will pull through if we pull together

My sons have a lovely book at home called Kind, which we often read together. I’ve been known to pull it from the shelf pointedly when they’re at each others throats, but I prefer to read it with them in calm moments, and to talk about it together.
 
It begins, “Imagine a world where everyone is kind. How can we make that come true?, and then goes on to suggest lots of practical ways to be kind and caring in our lives, with pictures by 38 different illustrators. It then ends with the words: 

“It feels nice to be kind. And it’s a good idea, too.

Because if everyone is kind… we’ll make a better world.”

 
You can probably see where I’m going with this. In the past few weeks, these soft little life lessons have become increasingly applicable and relevant. In the midst of these uncertain times, kindness is all the more important, and all the more abundant.
 
It’s a month today since Boris Johnson’s national TV address, in which he announced the lockdown. You don’t need me to tell you how strange, difficult and bewildering the past month has been for so many people. But amid the difficulties, we can see also a groundswell of kindness.
 
In mid-March, as the severity of the situation was becoming clearer, I popped notes through some of the doors on my street, asking if anyone would like to join a street WhatsApp group. I guess I thought it would be good to have each other’s numbers just in case anyone found themselves in sudden crisis, a handy emergency contact sheet.
 
Already though, it has become a heartening hubbub of kindness, community and support. People have been collecting shopping for each other, sharing supplies, passing on spare toys and craft equipment for the kids on the street and generally being kind.
Several people have remarked that they have chatted more to their neighbours now, over the fences or via their phones, than they ever did before. One neighbour has set up a makeshift food stall on their driveway, buying and collating supplies to ensure nobody in the street goes without. There’s a team spirit worth protecting. I know many other sets of neighbours in other streets have done the same.
 
Where I live, in York, I was heartened too by the get-up-and-go of local volunteers who picked, saved and then distributed 2,400kg of potatoes to local projects, after the outbreak led to a couple of buyers cancelling their contracts with local farmers. There’s an urgent drive suddenly to look out for one another, and to be kind.
 
We should say, we are not all in the same boat here. It is becoming recognised that those already suffering from society’s injustices are suffering all the more now, less able to access food, perhaps cut off from essential online school materials, struggling to find fresh air without a garden, or unable to access community resources they cherish and need. The virus undoubtedly exacerbates, rather than removes, society’s inequalities.
 
But if we are not all in the same boat, we are all nonetheless charting the same course in the same difficult channel, and we will pull through by pulling together. And when we do reach a safe harbour at the end of this, perhaps the kindness and solidarity we are seeing in our streets will help us make a better world.
 
Because if everyone is kind…
 
  • by Gavin Aitchison, Church Action on Poverty’s media unit coordinator

Sheffield Poverty Update August 2020

Vacancy: Your Local Pantry Scottish Development Worker

Vacancy: Challenge Poverty Week Intern

A Fair and Just Future for Cornwall

How one estate pulled together and how covid could change it forever

The Collective, Pilot – Church responses to the crisis

Sheffield Poverty Update August 2020

Vacancy: Your Local Pantry Scottish Development Worker

Vacancy: Challenge Poverty Week Intern