As lockdown restrictions begin to lift, Self-Reliant Group Facilitator Laura Walton, remembers those we have lost in the last few months, reflecting on the joy they brought to our lives.

For quite a number of our SRG members there are still huge worries over loved ones living outside the UK. Our countries of origin are spread all over the world….in Europe, South America, Africa and Asia.For many people the battle against Covid 19 is still a daily battle, the same battle but different in each context according to the economic and political situation. Families are still in danger and loved ones, so far away, face daily challenges just to survive.

Within our SRG family there are members who are still shielding, others not, but finding it threatening to be out and about. There are those whose children are back in school already two weeks now and some who are even going out to work again. We are all at different stages in our recovery even though we are being made aware of our vulnerability in terms of a virus spike or a second wave. But for now the worst is over, the NHS Nightingale stands shuttered yet serene, not having got its hands too dirty! NHS rainbows fade and curl at the edges or have been unceremoniously removed, but our hearts are still thankful. For many of us ….faith livers or not, we can say………”Thank God” with real conviction. When we have seen how indiscriminate the virus has been in affecting world rulers alongside powerless babes, newsworthy cases and the Mrs next doors, with equal scariness we can only wonder at how we have escaped or have been affected but mildly. We can only wonder and ponder…..” there but for the Grace of God, go I.”

Mr. Norris Jones of the Windrush era was 87. It was a privilege to have known him as an SRG member with the Limelighters in Old Trafford. He had been a baker in his professional life so was happy to be involved in baking in the group for the coffee afternoon at Limelight where he would enjoy a game of dominoes or bingo. Due to ill health in 2018, Norris mised his Caribbean cruise and after Albert’s suggestion, the group organised and saved for a canal boat trip to Lymm for Norris. When another boat was tethered at the watering hole, Norris crossed via the gang plank to the shore and a very welcome pint of guiness. It was a special day. I thank God for that day.

When walking became too much of a challenge, Norris was cheerful and uncomplaining and everyone will remember his smile and his laugh. He was warmth and sun.

And we thank God for him and for all those we have lost in the last few months who have added joy to our lives. And we remember our SRG family members who are still in pain, physically or emotionally and those whose loved ones are overseas and not yet out of trouble. And as we recognise God’s protective hand over us over these last few months we ask in prayer for that hand to be outstretched to those people now.

Heavenly Father thank you for protecting me and my family and my friends and my neighbours. For those people who still face the threat of the virus in South America, Europe, Asia and Africa we ask you to shield them and provide for them all that they need for their daily lives. In the same way that you showed us your Grace we ask for that Grace to be extended and for peace and hope to be growing in their communities.

Amen.

Find out more about Self-Reliant Groups: http://www.church-poverty.org.uk/srg .

Running a Good Society conversation

Something to wonder at and ponder on….

Gathering on the Margins – 23 June

1 city, 8 tales: sudden poverty & an outpouring of goodwill

Be in my Bubble

Gathering on the Margins – 16 June

Running a Good Society conversation

Something to wonder at and ponder on….

Gathering on the Margins – 23 June

Gathering on the Margins is going from once a week to once a month. We used our final weekly session to reflect on the past three months and what we have learnt so far.

We have had a Gathering on the Margins every week since the start of lockdown and it has been amazing meet so many people in different parts of the country and hear how different communities have been coping with the challenges of lockdown. We hope that, like us, you have found these gatherings a great opportunity to stay connected and share experiences. As lockdown begins to ease, we want to maintain these connections and continue having these gatherings in the longer-term. Gathering on the Margins will continue to happen, but on a monthly rather than a weekly basis. The gathering in Tuesday was the last of the weekly sessions and we wanted to use it as time to reflect on the past three months and what we have learnt together.

A constant theme throughout the gatherings has been creativity, and how people have responded to the crisis through art, music and poetry. This week we were joined by Yo, Charlotte and Gaye from a guitar group in Sheffield. The group grew out of the ‘Food Glorious Food’ choir, and they have learning to play the guitar together as a way of staying connected.

Matt, our poet in digital residence, has been to most of the gatherings, and shared his reflections on what he has learnt during the past three months. He said that hearing from people with different experiences has broadened his horizons and given him a better understanding of the scale of the problems that we are facing, but also the scale of the movement that exists to tackle them. For Matt, creativity has been a major way in which he has responded to that movement, and this is something he is keen to continue. He said that engaging with people’s stories in the gatherings and being able to chat to people afterwards has been very eye-opening.

Matt is currently compiling a series of poems written by himself and others in response to the pandemic. If you would like to submit a poem to be part of this project, you can do so here. There will also be an open-mic session on Tuesday 30th June at 3.30 pm if you have a creative response you want to share, or just want to listen to others. Sign-up here.

In groups we discussed what we have learnt over the last three months and what we want to carry forward into the future. Three main themes came through in the discussion.

Firstly, the value being connected and having the opportunity to speak to and hear from people we might not otherwise be in regular contact with, perhaps because they are based in a different part of the country. Ben pointed out that this has contributed to a real sense of community and people coming together, and understanding where there is crossover between different projects.

Secondly, some people have really appreciated the extra time that lockdown has given them, which has allowed them to pursue projects and attend online events. It has been great to have creative workshops run by Matt and others alongside these gatherings, and some people have been using this time as an opportunity to learn new skills like podcasting, making films and writing poetry.

And thirdly, the crisis has really highlighted the advantages of making good use of technology and doing things online. We are all looking forward to when we can meet with people in person again, but even when we can, we will still use Zoom as a way of connecting with people. For many people it is more convenient than gathering in person, removing obstacles like travel and social stresses. As we go into the future, we want to look for more ways to use digital technology as a force for good.

To finish off, we heard a poem from Matt that he read for us at the beginning of lockdown. The words are taken from signs Matt saw around his town at the start of lockdown.

The next gathering will be on 21st July. We hope to see you then.

Join us on Zoom by clicking the link below, or call 0131 460 1196 and using the meeting ID: 193 697 232

Running a Good Society conversation

Something to wonder at and ponder on….

Gathering on the Margins – 23 June

1 city, 8 tales: sudden poverty & an outpouring of goodwill

Be in my Bubble

Gathering on the Margins – 16 June

Running a Good Society conversation

Something to wonder at and ponder on….

Gathering on the Margins – 23 June

Our latest podcast episode features some inspiring stories of kindness and solidarity from York. Press play below to listen.

All of us, all over the country, have hopefully seen very clearly the kindness and compassion that have flown through society in recent months.

Neighbours looking out for one another, communities pulling together, people sharing supplies or simple words of kindness and encouragement. In adversity, we have pulled together.

In this blog and in the accompanying podcast, we take a snapshot look at just one city: York. There, community groups and residents tell of inspiring teamwork and solidarity. In the words of one person we spoke to, “there has been a fantastic outpouring of goodwill”. Hopefully, much of this rings true wherever you are as well.

You can listen to some of the people we spoke to on our podcast. If you prefer the written version, read on.

The city’s elected leaders have already been looking at how to harness the kindness and goodwill for the long-term. The council’s own registered volunteers had provided more than 25,000 hours of support by the end of May, dealing with thousands of requests for help. Other projects and informal support networks take that number far higher.

Here are contributions from some of the many people and projects pulling together around the city.

Mary Passeri & Sydnie Corley, York Food Justice Alliance

“We’ve had people come from all over, even from areas that people consider affluent, looking for food. There’s a lot of hidden poverty out there in York.

“We’ve had quite a few emails saying people are struggling, who don’t know the routes of how to get help or they have tried certain routes and not had any feedback or response because everyone is inundated with trying to help people they originally supported, or people who are in isolation.

“The best thing we’ve been able to do is to link up with other little informal groups. This is the beauty of the alliance; it’s made up of lots of different people in different areas of York. So if we get a load of bananas, we’ve been able to swap bananas for rice, for example. We share food out. It’s been amazing how supportive and how quickly people can get help and support.

“It’s put a mirror up to people that, you know what, this could be you. It could be anybody.

“We’re going to be supporting families for a very long time. Hopefully we can get our food market back up and running because we are supporting so many people that didn’t necessarily want to admit they needed extra food, and they may be people who are on the side now and not actually getting support. There’s still that stigma or shame unfortunately, which hopefully is breaking down now.

“It’s amazing how people have come together; people we thought would never support or even understand that food security was a problem have just come round and are offering to help all the time.”

Tony Carson, who lives in the city-centre

“We’re on Universal Credit. I think everybody knows it’s a very flawed system. We just about manage to get by. You certainly don’t live an extravagant lifestyle but we budget as well as we can; we limit ourselves to £2 per person per day food-wise so we can afford to keep up to date with the bills. That’s effectively how you have to exist.”

Tony and his partner Sue were homeless for seven weeks in 2018, but have been in a flat for the past 18 months, and Tony has been working as a cycle courier and advertiser. That work has dried up, so he is looking forward to finding work again, and to seeing Sue’s daughter’s new baby for the first time.

He hopes also that the drive to ensure nobody was sleeping rough during the lockdown can be a turning point:

“I’m not a great fan of our present Government but on this occasion I think they did a very good job and in actively seeking out the homeless and getting them indoors. There’s an argument to say it should have been done years ago…  It’s always been something people have turned a blind eye to. There are still people choosing to be outdoors; that’s their decision, but the greater majority of people who were homeless in the city are now in the Staycity [an aparthotel in the city centre]. It’s got to be a better solution, it’s obviously not a long-term solution, but let’s hope in the long run that lessons are learned by this.”

Nicky Gladstone runs Carecent, which provides hot breakfasts, showers, support and kindness to people who are homeless or otherwise in need

When lockdown began, Carecent switched to a delivery service, making packed lunches for their regulars who were temporarily in hotels and B&Bs, and liaising with other local organisations to ensure further support.

“At the highest point, we were making 50 packed lunches a day and then other amazing groups were providing food in the evenings… Our main volunteer group is largely made up of people from the slightly older section of society, so we appealed on social media and we were overwhelmed by the kindness of people who came forward and offered their help, people who had been furloughed, students who had come back, people who were out of work.

“In fact things changed so quickly that although we had this fantastic second body of volunteers, we were not able to use them and we have a tiny skeleton team of eight now, in teams of two, that make the sandwiches. We have kept it as small as possible to reduce any risk of infection. But we are hoping maybe to make use of some of that fantastic outpouring of goodwill as we look towards reopening.

“I do feel a real sense of positivity. We have all, across York, enjoyed such close collaboration, real partnership working with us, our friends at KEY and other food providers, Salvation Army, the Peaseholme, the council, Changing Lives; we’ve all worked together so closely and shared information where appropriate and looked after each other. I really believe that this is a new opportunity to work together, to work closely, to all pull in the same direction and really make some long-term differences.”

Nicky says co-production with people who are currently homeless is easy to overlook, while projects are rolling their sleeves up, but she says: “It is so important to work in co-creation and co-production with people who genuinely have lived experience and to find out what it is they want and need. So often it is easy to decide we know the answers, but we know there is no substitute for asking those questions and involving people who really know what they are talking about.

“We saw so clearly what was valuable in this lockdown; we’ve seen so clearly the things that matter, the people who really make a difference and it would be wonderful to think that we could hold on to that, that we could carry on celebrating the people who actually keep up going and keep the wheels of society turning – and it’s perhaps not who everybody thought it was to start with. We have looked after each other, haven’t we, and it would be wonderful to think that that could carry on.”

Rosie Wall, Chapelfields resident

Rosie has helped run the Chapelfields Community Association for many years. She has been shielding during the outbreak but her daughters and grandson have been running a pop-up food stall and delivering food to 71 homes locally.

“We are doing deliveries to a list of homes. We get food from various projects – Kitchen For Everyone York, Morrisons, Lidl, M&S and others. We give out what we can. Some weeks we can’t meet all the requests but we go as far as we can. A lot of people here, especially the elderly, are on their own and cannot get out, but we put food on the doorstep and they take it in.

“People have been really kind and some people have given donations so we can buy stuff to hand back out, and we have a facebook page so we can say if we need anything.

“I really hope the community stays like this. There’s a lot of kindness and it’s lovely when someone rings and chats. I don’t know when we’ll be able to open our regular hub again but we are keeping in touch with people. Sometimes if you speak to someone who is on their own, you might be their only conversation that day. So it’s not just about the food, it’s a friendly knock on the door and knowing there’s someone there to just chat to from a distance.

“My 13-year-old grandson, Leidan, has been helping a lot. He is autistic and this is keeping him busy, when his routine is out of synch.”

Hilary Platt, Bell Farm Community Hall

“Right from the start we have been providing food. We decided to release our funds from our charity to buy food because we knew it could be needed.

“A lot of people round here were stuck inside and did not have money or could not get out, but were not officially shielded, so were not getting deliveries. We have been helping a lot of people. People have been coming saying they have no food and we are providing parcels through the window. We’ve had people coming from all over York, it’s been very challenging. We struggled at first but we are keeping up now. The local Trussell Trust food bank has been very helpful and giving us donations as well.”

Food has been provided through Fareshare, KEY and others, as well as supermarkets, supplanting the tinned and dried items with fresh food.

“The public have been very generous since they’ve been able to go shopping properly again and the community response has been fantastic; if I say we need a volunteer, I have one within five minutes. We’ve always had a good community spirit. Of course some don’t want to know, but most are very supportive.

“We’ve had so many people saying they want to come and help, and we are asking them now to come and help once this is over, when we need to get the hall and the association back to life, and we need to fundraise and recover. We know this is going to last until at least next year and we probably won’t open the hall fully for a long time. The school holidays and Christmas will be tough. The school vouchers decision is good but a lot of people will not benefit. If you are applying now for Universal Credit, it will be five weeks until you get it and you won’t get the vouchers.

“I’ve had five people here recently who have lost their jobs and Universal Credit will not help them until next month at least. We had someone here who was doing fine. She lives on her own and had a good job, self-employed, but now has no money and no food, but she has realised now that food poverty can happen to anyone. We had a taxi driver as well, who had never struggled before but his wife had become ill and now he had no work, and they have a big family. It has completely changed the way they feel about everything. I think this will have a big change on people’s attitudes; it will change how they feel about people who are on benefits.

“York is expensive. We have people paying maybe £1,000 a month in rent, and Universal Credit does not nearly cover that. People who were maybe slamming others before are now realising they’re not able to get this, that or the other. A lot of the poorest already knew where to turn, but there are people who have never had to struggle before and who are finding it really difficult to access anything, and they’re saying “we’ve never had to do this before”. They feel shame and we’re trying to make them feel okay. We’ve been hearing of people at home for almost a week with no food. I was worried people were going to die. A lot of families are covered by other organisations but there are people without children who, if all their income is suddenly stopped, have nothing left. There’s nobody looking out for them; that’s who we have seen a lot of. But the community is pulling together.”

Maya James, Groves Groceries

Maya helps with Groves Groceries, which runs from St Thomas’s Church. The church website notes: “It’s often said that we are all in the same boat when it comes to the coronavirus crisis. But that isn’t really true. While we are all weathering the same storm, we are in a number of different boats.

“Some of our vessels are large, luxurious and relatively safe. Things may be tough for us but we’re unlikely to slip beneath the waves. Other vessels are small and barely seaworthy. They are being battered by the storm, their occupants clinging on for dear life.”

The project is closely supporting local people who might otherwise be unable to stay afloat, including some families from two local primary schools.

Maya recently shared her story with the city-wide volunteering network. She says: “One of the aims of this project was to provide food for families in real need during this time. Equally, we wanted to use this project as a way of staying in touch with people connected to St Thomas’s, who we might otherwise lose touch with as at the moment we don’t meet physically together on a Sunday or in our midweek groups.

“Just over half of the people we deliver to are within our parish. We also deliver five boxes of food each week to two primary schools in the parish. The other people we deliver to live relatively close by, and are either members of our church family or of the church community groups that we normally run, or they have been referred to us by local organisations.

“Over the last eight weeks we have delivered 419 bags of food, 283 separate deliveries and 28 crates of bread (to Door 84 and Tang Hall Primary School).

“We are working with ‘Your Café’ which hasn’t been able to operate during this time and they have long-standing links to the local supermarkets.

“We will run Groves Groceries until July 22nd. After this, Luke’s larder will recommence from July 28 (1pm to 2pm), from St Luke’s church hall on Burton Stone Lane.

“We believe this has been an enormous answer to prayer to us and we are so pleased we have been able to help so many people during this time.”

John McGall, community activist

John has immersed himself in helping anti-poverty groups in York, after an arm operation and then two rounds of heart surgery changed his outlook on life. He co-founded I Am Reusable, which collects and distributes donations to people on very low incomes across Yorkshire, and which also works to tackle plastic pollution and waste.

He has been shielding during the outbreak but has been coordinating city-wide donations, deliveries and distribution from his house and garage.

“As individuals and individual groups, we can do marvellous things, but as a consortium we can do even more – sharing items, looking for bigger items and trying to get one hub together. We all talk to each other every day and if someone needs something, a bed or whatever, we all try to help.”

He praised the Supper Collective, an alliance of some of the city’s best-known restaurants and cafes and 60 volunteers, who have cooked and delivered meals to NHS workers, people who are homeless, or people who are otherwise struggling, every day for three months.

“York has really pulled together and helped the community, it really has. Businesses, supermarkets, community projects have all come together. People who never talked to each other have been talking and there’s been a big rise in the community helping each other.”

John became involved in local community work after an arm operation just over ten years ago. He had been working for the NHS until then but was shocked to see how poor the support was for people unable to work. “People were being treated appallingly, and going from being a professional person to being unable to work was difficult for me, and there was no help there. If I hadn’t been married, and had my wife for support, I would have become homeless, so I started thinking that if I could help one other person every day, that would be good. My experience means I can help people who are looking to access help. Then after my first heart attack, I started wondering what I could do while sitting at home, but now my garage is full of stuff to share around.

“The big picture is still long-term, especially if we get a second wave. A lot of businesses have donated but we don’t how long that will carry on. Unemployment is going to go right up and with York being a big hospitality city, with low pay and with the hotels not yet open, there will be a knock-on effect. I can see more people needing support and we need to keep pulling together for each other. We will carry on and those most involved have become good friends. We know each other and if we do get back to some sort of normality, we will still carry on helping each other out.”

Running a Good Society conversation

Something to wonder at and ponder on….

Gathering on the Margins – 23 June

1 city, 8 tales: sudden poverty & an outpouring of goodwill

Be in my Bubble

Gathering on the Margins – 16 June

Running a Good Society conversation

Something to wonder at and ponder on….

Gathering on the Margins – 23 June

Self-Reliant Group Facilitator, Laura Walton, reflects on 'social bubbles' and the power of just spending time with people

Laura writes a spiritual refection every Sunday as part of the SRG Facebook group’s Spiritual Sunday.

A friend told me this week that she had offered up the services of herself and her family as a ‘bubble’. As a result a single Mum with two young kids are coming to Rusholme for the weekend and it will definitely be “hugs all round”.

Instead of thinking about who they wanted to see and spend time with, INSIDE their house, not in the cold spitting weather of late, they thought of who might need their company, their affirmation, their hugs. The Mum was overwhelmed by this generous and loving invitation and will have a great weekend…..just being with people who have chosen her to just be with.

My friend later realised just how much cleaning she really needed to do. After 3 months of supervising 4 children in school at home, understandably not much housework had been done. When energy permitted, straightening had been just about managed. But she has learnt to be kind to herself….the family would not be making the effort to travel to sit on sofas that had been decrumbed amongst other things, or to admire the clean smear free walls or check that the numerous pairs of shoes were all correctly paired. They were coming because they had been invited by people who loved them and wanted to simply be together with them.

When we get invited places we do make an effort in smartening up, taking a bottle or flowers and even arriving vaguely on time. When we invite people to ours we do have a plan, get ready and even make things look presentable. This is normal. But if there’s one thing we have learnt in lockdown is that “normal” is a thing of the past. We have had time to reflect on the things that are really important to us and now we have an opportunity to create a new order, a new way of doing things, a new norm that’s based on those truly important elements.

One amazing thing about the Christian faith is that God wants each one of us to be close to him and that’s why he invites us to do just that. He loves us and wants to show us that love every day and for ever. His invite to us all comes without a relaxation of legal restraints, certain conditions or a need for careful preparation. His invite is not based on our current relationship with him or whether we need him more than anyone else. And even more amazing is the fact that he doesn’t wait till we’ve sorted ourselves out on the outside and on the inside. He wants us just exactly how we are, dirty smears and all. His invite is addressed to each one of us and signed by his son Jesus.

So as we move from level 4 to level 3 in terms of virus restrictions and more things open up on the high street,let’s make choices based on the things that we have seen are really important to us and remember who is inviting us into his bubble.

Running a Good Society conversation

Something to wonder at and ponder on….

Gathering on the Margins – 23 June

1 city, 8 tales: sudden poverty & an outpouring of goodwill

Be in my Bubble

Gathering on the Margins – 16 June

Running a Good Society conversation

Something to wonder at and ponder on….

Gathering on the Margins – 23 June

This week we talked about campaigning and movement building, including different approaches to campaigning and what issues Church Action on Poverty should campaign on.

We have been 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.

Join us on Zoom by clicking the link below, or call 0131 460 1196 and using the meeting ID: 193 697 232

Before we started out main discussion, our poet in digital residence, Matt Sowerby, shared the poem that he is working on inspired by the ‘You Can’t eat the view’ report from the End Hunger Cornwall conference last year. You can read the report here, and you can find more of Matt’s poetry here.

We started our discussion about campaigning by talking about the news Marcus Rashford has persuaded the free school meals vouchers scheme into the summer holidays. Holiday hunger is an issue that many people and organisations have been campaigning on for a long time, but it was a footballer that had the direct impact on government policy – so what can we learn from this? It was striking in the interviews that Rashford was speaking from his personal experience of having gone hungry as a child, and this was the powerful basis campaign. Rashford’s success was a clear sign that campaigns that might not have seemed winnable six months may actually be achievable.

Niall then talked about different types of campaign as well as various campaigns around poverty that other organisations are running at the moment. A lot of our campaigning in the past has been focussed on changing UK government policy, but there are other effective ways of campaigning too, such as influencing other institutions, raising public awareness and building a wider movement.

Andrew talked about the need for a societal change as well as change to government policy. Foodbanks and food poverty are becoming ‘normal’ in our society and we need people to realise that this isn’t normal and shouldn’t be normal. To make societal change we need grassroots up movements, not top-down campaigns.

There was also discussion about how there are many issues that are would not typically be the focus of a specifically anti-poverty campaign, but are indirectly connected. An example that came up a few times was mental health issues, which can often arise as a result of poverty. An anti-poverty campaign could focus on building a better environment in which fewer mental health problems arise.

In breakout rooms we had the opportunity to discuss different issues that we could focus a campaign on, as well as different approaches to campaigning. Stef’s group talked about rethinking the benefits system and social security, to shift attitudes away from the unhelpful idea that ‘those who pay more in, should get more out’. They also discussed how food poverty arises mot just from an inadequate benefit system, but also from in-work poverty. This is another possible focus for a campaign.

Wendy’s group talked about ways of campaigning and the importance of a grassroots approach and having a local as well as national focus, because local campaigns can often achieve things that wouldn’t be possible on the national level.

At these gatherings we love to have creative input, and this week were joined by Yo Tozer-Loft from Sheffield, who has been learning to play the guitar during lockdown as part of a local guitar group, and she kindly demonstrated her new skills with a song. The guitar group grew off the back of the ‘Foodbank Choir’, who sang at the End Hunger UK event in Sheffield Cathedral last year. You can listen to them here.

We have had a gathering every week during lockdown, and the response and involvement has been amazing. We plan to continue gatherings like this on Zoom, but in order to sustain them in the long term, from July onwards they will be monthly rather than weekly. Next week (23rd June) will be the last of the weekly gatherings, and it will chance to reflect and discuss what we have talked about and learnt in the gatherings so far. We really value your input, so do join us on Tuesday.

Running a Good Society conversation

Something to wonder at and ponder on….

Gathering on the Margins – 23 June

1 city, 8 tales: sudden poverty & an outpouring of goodwill

Be in my Bubble

Gathering on the Margins – 16 June

Running a Good Society conversation

Something to wonder at and ponder on….

Gathering on the Margins – 23 June

This week we looked beyond the UK and talked about how we can stand in solidarity with people around the world, and what we can learn from approaches to tackling poverty in other countries.

We have 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.

Join us on Zoom by clicking the link below, or call 0131 460 1196 and using the meeting ID: 193 697 232

Last year Penny and Ben visited America to speak at an event hosted by Why Hunger? While they were there they visited projects tackling poverty and food insecurity at a local level. Penny reflected on how what she saw there compared to the UK.

In North Carolina they visited plots of land where communities were growing their own food and sales of the surplus at farmers’ markets would go back into the community. Penny has been trying to promote community gardening programmes like this in her own community in Byker, but has found it difficult to get people involved. As Ben points out, in the UK things like farmers’ markets are associated with the privileged and is currently not as normalised or accessible for most of the community. However, we heard from other people in the gathering about community growing projects in Cornwall and London, so this does seem to be something that is taking off in some parts of the UK too.

While in America, Penny and Ben also visited a large foodbank in New York, which seemed to provide more support than foodbanks Penny had been to in Newcastle, but there was also a sense the reliance on foodbanks had become very normalised.

Ben also reflected that the people he met in America were much more open to talking about how issues of gender, race, sexuality, etc. intersected with issues of poverty than we are here, and that they were much better at having those kinds of conversations. The events of the last few weeks are making the importance of these conversations increasingly clear.

Charlotte Killeya told us about when she visited Youngstown, Ohio when researching steel-making communities and was struck by how well communities told their own stories, and included discussions of the intersection of race, class, gender on sexuality. Charlotte recommends these books on the topic:

Striking Steel, Solidarity Remembered by Jack Metzgar

Steel Town USA: Work and Memory in Youngstown by Sherry Lee Linkon and Jack Russo

It was not only America that we talked about. Gillian Dare reminded us that much of the poverty in many countries around the world is the result of the wealthiest countries. She highlighted the importance of making trade deals that do not trap people in poverty. On top of this, lockdown across the world has affected important international development projects and severely damaged the economies of the poorest countries in the world. It is therefore more vital than ever that we stand in solidarity with them and seriously consider how what happens in the UK has impact across the world.

Niall shared a video of theologian Anthony Reddie reflecting what the Church needs to do to show solidarity with the most marginalised during the pandemic, especially around issues of race and class. He talked about how Christianity itself, and many Church movements were originally about solidarity with the poor, but as those traditions have become more ‘respectable’ they replaced commitment to the poor for the middle class, meaning that people on the margins become invisible. The pandemic has shown how these people have been hidden, and now we need to respond by being in solidarity and get alongside the people whose stories we really need to hear.

Towards the end of the gathering we discussed where we are after almost three months of lockdown and what we would like to discuss in future gatherings. People raised concerns about what is happening as short-term measures that were put in place at the beginning of the pandemic, such as accommodating homeless people in hotels, are removed. Other issues that were raised included: how young people’s lives are being put on hold, income levels, diversity and how we build back better. Do come along to future gatherings where we will discuss these issues.

Next week we will be talking about campaigning and what Church Action on Poverty should be focussing on. If you have ideas you would like to share, or just want to be part of the conversation, please do join us.

Running a Good Society conversation

Something to wonder at and ponder on….

Gathering on the Margins – 23 June

1 city, 8 tales: sudden poverty & an outpouring of goodwill

Be in my Bubble

Gathering on the Margins – 16 June

Running a Good Society conversation

Something to wonder at and ponder on….

Gathering on the Margins – 23 June

Read the latest newsletter from our local group in Sheffield.

Poverty Update is a regular newsletter produced by Church Action on Poverty in Sheffield.

This latest issue includes reports from some of our national online gatherings, and details of how you can stay informed about the work of the local group.

Running a Good Society conversation

Running a Good Society conversation

Something to wonder at and ponder on….

Gathering on the Margins – 23 June

A hymn by Church Action on Poverty supporter Nick Jowett.

(Tune: ‘To God be the glory’)

Unseen, undetected, a virus invades,
with hideous potential for suffering and pain.
From human to human the pest makes its raids:
will all be infected in Being’s great chain?
Hear our voice! Hear our cry! May the Lord hear our prayer.
Give us hope, steady hope, in the place of despair.
We cry out, O God, in our anguish and stress.
We seek understanding. We need you to bless.

Though many are fearful, yet some do not care:
they want to continue their life as before;
no evil can happen to them, they declare,
asserting their freedom, they’ll flout any law.
Hear our voice! Hear our cry! May the Lord hear our prayer.
Give us hope, steady hope, in the place of despair.
O Father, bring hope for the world in its sin:
may all see the signs of your kingdom begin.

Can this be the truth we’re unwilling to call:
the human, self-centred, refusing to share?
Is that the real virus, in one and in all,
which silently poisons what might have been fair?
Hear our voice! Hear our cry! May the Lord hear our prayer.
Give us hope, steady hope, in the place of despair.

How can we, O God, purge this ill from the earth?
How can we all flourish
without a new birth?
And yet, in a crisis of desperate need,
the summons goes out for each person to hear,
and many respond, help their neighbours with speed,
forgetting themselves, bringing practical cheer.
Hear our voice! Hear our cry! May the Lord hear our prayer.
Give us hope, steady hope, in the place of despair.
By actions of love, whether many or few,
your Spirit, O God, starts what Jesus would do.

In those who are willing to help with a smile,
defeating this sickness with boldness and grace,
and willing to travel an extra long mile,
the virus of evil’s pushed back in its place.
Hear our voice! Hear our cry! May the Lord hear our prayer.
Give us hope, steady hope in the place of despair.
We cried out, O God, in our anguish and stress,
And now you have shown us that you can still bless.

Running a Good Society conversation

Something to wonder at and ponder on….

Gathering on the Margins – 23 June

1 city, 8 tales: sudden poverty & an outpouring of goodwill

Running a Good Society conversation

Something to wonder at and ponder on….

Gathering on the Margins – 23 June

On 3 June, we gathered theologians, writers and ministers to reflect together on what the church's role should be in 'building back better' after the pandemic.

Opening poem and prayer by Marie Pattison of Katherine House

Click here to see Church Action on Poverty’s series of posts to prompt wider discussion on this topic.

Our ‘worship and theology collective’ had a fruitful discussion, and we hope some this thinking will influence how we work with churches in the coming months. Here are some brief notes and ideas from our discussions:

Trauma and dancing

  • We talked about Shelly Rambo’s theology of trauma and the importance of not rushing from Good Friday to Easter Sunday, the importance of Holy Saturday – the need for a time to lament and acknowledge what has gone wrong before we build anew.
  • We looked at the three principles of Liberation Theology:
    • Solidarity – including grieving with people. There is a need for healing as well as prophetic voices. 
    • Mutual Aid – we cannot rely on the government. The phrase mutual aid has now become mainstream.
    • Dancing – need to find new ways to celebrate life beyond the pain.
  • It’s important not to be too positive about the pandemic as an opportunity for change, because so many people are losing loved ones – the pandemic is not a good thing.
  • The prophets, e.g. Deutero Isaiah, wrote out of disaster and exile, woe and hope mingled together. We are in an exile moment. The prophetic imagination of Isaiah might help us – images of the lion and the lamb laying down together, etc.
  • But the pandemic has magnified stress and anxiety that was already there. Some people have gone into survival mode. How do we connect with people who could not be further from ‘dancing’?

Voices and power

  • Who do we look to to take the lead as we move forward? Children will be among the most traumatised by this pandemic. The climate movement is being led by young people – whose voices do we pay most attention to? We talked about the story of Jesus placing a child in the centre.
  • In the story of the healing of the blind man (Mark 8), Jesus tells him not to go back to the village. Do not go back to the old way of life, we are going somewhere new now.
  • It has been interesting to see how different churches have responded – some have stepped up, but others haven’t. Is there something the whole church across the UK, across denominations, could be saying? Could the Church as a whole be acting as the conscience of the nation and holding the government to account?
  • Members talked about their denominations becoming  internally obsessed about losing money and congregation members because of the pandemic, and wanting to make a power grab.
    How can we encourage the Church to embrace this crisis by shutting up and listening to the people its not been listening to?

Judgement

  • This is a crisis – a judgement on our society; it will take a long time to see what that means.
  • Truth-telling is vital at this time. The church seems to be divided between those who want to speak out against the government, and those who criticise people speaking out.
  • Fake news or good news? The prevailing narrative is not necessarily the truth. Challenge the churches to listen better and think about whose voices they amplify.
  • Jesus gives the disciples the power to forgive sins and to retain them. How do we retain sins and say ‘I am still not OK with this?’
  • We shouldn’t be frightened of judgement. We believe in a God who judges.

Fear, Othering and Connection

  • Contrary to the stories of solidarity and connection, some members were concerned that we are becoming more fearful of one another and of the world outside.
  • One member shared the story of their autistic granddaughter who overcame her fear of stepping outside the front door when her family drew a hopscotch game on the street, making the outside space safe, and she witnessed strangers (including adults) using the hopscotch, being aware of other people inhabiting the same space and being safe.
  • We are not all in the same boat, but we are in the same storm. We shared this poem by Kathy Galloway:

Do not retreat into your private world,
That place of safety, sheltered from the storm,
Where you may tend your garden, seek your soul
And rest with loved ones where the fire burns warm.

To tend a garden is a precious thing,
But dearer still the one where all may roam,
The weeds of poison, poverty and war,
Demand your care, who call the earth your home.

To seek your soul it is a precious thing,
But you will never find it on your own,
Only among the clamour, threat and pain,
Of other people’s need will love be known.

To rest with loved ones is a precious thing,
But peace of mind exacts a higher cost,
Your children will not rest and play in quiet,
While they hear the crying of the lost.

Do not retreat into your private world,
There are more ways than firesides to keep warm;
There is no shelter from the rage of life,
So meet its eye, and dance within the storm.

Kathy Galloway (First published in Bread of Tomorrow, ed. Janet Morley, SPCK/Christian Aid, London 1992)

Running a Good Society conversation

Something to wonder at and ponder on….

Gathering on the Margins – 23 June

1 city, 8 tales: sudden poverty & an outpouring of goodwill

Be in my Bubble

Gathering on the Margins – 16 June

Running a Good Society conversation

Something to wonder at and ponder on….

Gathering on the Margins – 23 June

In this week’s gathering we discussed how the Coronavirus crisis has impacted the lives of children and young people.

We have 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.

Join us on Zoom by clicking the link below, or call 0131 460 1196 and using the meeting ID: 193 697 232

This week we heard from:

  • Wayne from Nightsafe, a charity which supports homeless young people in Blackburn and Darwen
  • Zoe from the Food Foundation who has been researching how the crisis has been affecting children’s access to food
  • Rys Farthing who advocates for young people’s rights, especially digital rights

We were also joined by Sarah Knowles from Healthwatch Blackburn with Darwen, and actor/writer Ellis Howard.

Wayne told us about some of the difficulties that Nightsafe have faced over the last couple of months supporting homeless young people during the pandemic. Both the night-shelter and the daycentre, which are vital lifelines for many young people, were forced to shut during lockdown, but Nightsafe are still running three supported housing projects, accommodating sixteen young people.

Wayne told us that one of the major issues affecting young people is that stopping of education and the cancellation of courses and the structure that they provide is having a negative effect on mental health. But staff are finding new ways to engage with the young people living in the supported housing, such as inter-house events and competitions, and some of the residents have really embraced using this time to learn skills such as cooking.

The pandemic has caused lots of difficulties for Nightsafe, but as we are all learning to work in new ways, there are things they are hoping to carry forward into their future work. Wayne reflected that communication across the organisation to improve, and this is something they can take into the future. Find out more about Nightsafe here.

The Food Foundation has been doing research on the impact of the crisis on vulnerable groups and their food experiences. Zoe told us that at the beginning of the crisis there was a major supply issue of there not being food in shops, but now economic issues are more critical and intense and this is likely to continue in the recovery phase. There have also been major issues with the systems that are supposed to ensure that children are still able to access free school meals.

The Food Foundation are sharing the findings of this research with government departments and the media to try and shape the public narrative about this issue and allow people to understand people what has been happening. They have also have been recording podcasts with their young ambassadors, but this has been very difficult due to issues around digital exclusion. You can listen to the experiences they were able to record here.

Rys Farthing works on involving disadvantaged and marginalised young people in discussions about social issues. She told us that young people are now spending twice as much time online as they did before Covid, which has created a new frontier of inequality. Rys says that when thinking about youg people’s digital rights you can divide them into two categories: protection rights and participation rights.

  • Protection rights – Research has shown that factors like living in care or having mental health difficulties heightens the risks that young people face online, but very little research has been done into how living in poverty can impact these risks too. It is important not to assume that all young people are digital savvy and know how to protect themselves online. Lack of access to a high quality digital literacy curriculum means that young people facing inequality face much higher online risks.
  • Participation rights – This is something not many people were talking about before Covid, but we are now. Devices such as laptops and phones are now vital to education and participating in many aspects of life. A lack of reliable broadband connection is also a big problem for many young people, and having to pay for expensive data packages is a new form of the poverty premium. There is also need for education about how to use these digital resources.

However, Rys also sees the rise of the digital as being a space for incredible opportunities for young people. She hopes that increased digital civic engagement will be a way to tackle inequality and create new openings for social mobility. You can find out more about Rys and her work here.

Covid-19 is a global pandemic, affecting the lives of people in poverty across the world. Next week we will be shifting our focus beyond the UK and exploring the theme of global solidarity.

Running a Good Society conversation

Something to wonder at and ponder on….

Gathering on the Margins – 23 June

1 city, 8 tales: sudden poverty & an outpouring of goodwill

Be in my Bubble

Gathering on the Margins – 16 June

Running a Good Society conversation

Something to wonder at and ponder on….

Gathering on the Margins – 23 June