a park with a path and some trees

Self-Reliant Group facilitator, Laura Walton, celebrates the joys of going for a walk in a park

A walk in the park. A phrase often used when something is relatively easy, leisurely and requiring little effort. A throwaway comment at times, dismissing some activity which could have been far worse. Not a phrase used extensively except for in the last few months when it literally has been a lifeline for many.

Can you imagine what our lives would be like without our local parks? Again restricted to public areas in which to remind ourselves what friends are and what community looks like, our parks are yet again, for many of us, our real outside worlds.
 
Inner city life has many advantages up until the point when your liberty is abruptly halted. Then we are left with patchwork skies and last night’s takeaways underfoot and next door’s fall outs. And thankfully our local parks.

Parks were often a lifeline for us as young parents, desperate for adult company and for somewhere for all the noise of little kids to disperse to. They have been our lifeline again through lockdown, offering us space and air, free from yesterday’s cooking and today’s need of cleaning and the everyday tensions of being under someone’s feet.
And again….no more living room and garden bench pour outs, comparing and sharing intimacies with close friends. But the local park is there, always available and open to all walks of life.
 
Local parks are as familiar as favourite bed socks, loved and well used, if at times abused and taken for granted. They are part of our lives, our histories, our culture. They reconnect us to each other and to the rest of yesteryear and will be there as our lives change and we notice things for the first time, right under our noses when we had always been looking somewhere else.

So if we haven’t already, let’s start reconnecting with our local area through our parks especially if lockdown has meant shielding. Or if you’re aware that September will bring many changes to your family’s routine and you need to be ready. Or you want to re-engage with life gently and let your guard down and learn to take back your place in society.

Let’s go for that walk in the park…..let’s be safe but let’s re-engage with the people of our postcode, rather than the statistics. Let’s be part of the outside world, not just seeing it hurry past and let’s enjoy sharing that space, those cultures, those histories and those hopeful futures.

A Prayer…

Heavenly Father, help us to be thankful for the simple things in our lives that we often take for granted, even abuse. Thank you for our communities and our local areas and the services that people have kept going for us. Thank you for the places where we can be community and be part of a background that is dependable and available and comforting and reassuring.
We thank you for your faithfulness to us Lord, your presence with us through your Spirit and your assurance that we never walk alone. May that be a walk that builds confidence in those who have been isolated and alone. May it be a walk of wisdom and strength to those who are changing routines and making new plans. May it be a walk that blesses and restores us all.
In Jesus’s name we pray.

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

The Collective, Episode 2 – Community responses

Sheffield Poverty Update, September 2020

SPARK newsletter, autumn 2020

Book review: No Fixed Abode

3 key ways we will be challenging poverty this autumn: Join us

Church Action on Poverty North East 2020 AGM, 25 September

The Collective, Episode 2 – Community responses

Book review: No Fixed Abode

3 key ways we will be challenging poverty this autumn: Join us

Sign reading Look After Each Other

Self-Reliant Group facilitator, Laura Walton, reflects on the importance of looking after each other.

Sign reading Look After Each Other
Despite what the rest of the country thinks, we Mancunians are following the rules. On a huge billboard in amongst the skyscrapers of the Mancunian way is the instruction to….. Look after each other. It is clear, simple and achievable and with a further positive outcome guaranteed; people will look after us. It has encouraged me to look out for examples of this happening if I go out. I’ve seen people wiping trolleys after they’ve shopped, boxes of free apples on pavements in my neighbourhood, people sharing bin space and giving way even around puddles.
 
One lady in a Self Reliant Group in Old Trafford has been writing to old friends who she no longer sees, to encourage them. Occasionally a relative may phone on behalf of the elderly Mother or Aunt to thank her and to say how her kind words brightened their day. This SRG member is 96 years old and looks after the money for her group. She has been shielding for nearly 5 months and likens the whole unhappy affair to life towards the end of the war except for in the war you knew your enemy. She admits that her mental health has declined quite dramatically.
 
A morning tea was planned for the group in the communal garden where they live. Unfortunately the local lockdown prevented the tea in the garden and instead three of the ladies met at the front of the building, with very limited shade. Our elderly letter writer was very keen to be part of the tea and cake brigade and to spend time with people. She sat for as long as she could in the group before needing to move into the shade. Her 2 friends, both in their 80s lent her their arms and supported her to stand and turn and walk and then to sit down again. All 3 were momentarily out of breath but so pleased that they had been able to help their dear friend.
 
Before Lockdown she would have refused help. In June last year, when the group went on a canal boat day trip she had to walk across a wooden plank to get to dry land, with her 2 wooden sticks. And she did so with no complaints.
 
Look after each other.
 
We have seen this so many times within our self reliant group community. People genuinely care for each other and are prepared to go the extra mile for others. They encourage one another and are endlessly resourceful despite limited means, ability and now limited mobility. In getting to know their groups and each other’s needs, people learn to live altruistically and to live with more of a purpose and so have determination and resilience and courage.
 
For well over 2000 years Christian believers have tried to obey the teaching of Jesus to love one another. Tried and many times failed. But are always ready to try again. For many people during the last few months, having that purpose to life in Lockdown has kept them positive and through prayer they have been given the strength and the energy to persevere.
 
So Mr. Andy Burnham, we will be looking after each other as that’s just what we do and who we are as SRG members. And if that becomes difficult and we become tired and drained, then we know how to ask our Heavenly Father for more strength and wisdom to know how best to do it.
Find out more about Self-Reliant Groups: http://www.church-poverty.org.uk/srg 

The Collective, Episode 2 – Community responses

Sheffield Poverty Update, September 2020

SPARK newsletter, autumn 2020

Book review: No Fixed Abode

3 key ways we will be challenging poverty this autumn: Join us

Church Action on Poverty North East 2020 AGM, 25 September

The Collective, Episode 2 – Community responses

Book review: No Fixed Abode

3 key ways we will be challenging poverty this autumn: Join us

sunflower

Self-Reliant Group facilitator, Laura Walton, is inspired by a sunflower.

sunflower
A lone sunflower stands tall in my garden. It has survived neglect, vicious attack by grubs, being buffeted by strong winds and lashed at repeatedly by the cold July rain. Yet it has survived. It faces the sun, its source of growth and resilience and from which it takes its name. An inadequately undersized bamboo stick supports most of its body but not the upper section of its graceful neck and beautiful face, which is left untethered and free to follow and draw strength from the sometimes elusive sun. Or free to be snapped at by sudden angry gusts.
 
But I want to see it when I wash my pots. I want to turn its pot to face my window and be cheered by its face first thing in the morning when full of sleep and restless dreams, I fill my kettle. But then how long before it loses its brilliance, its petals lose their vitality and the flower begins to blend in with the fading beauty of the suburban garden?
 
And so it is with the Christian faith. For many of us through Lockdown, Church has been online, a lifeline to some, a data impossibility for others and a technical nightmare for more than just a few. For some, Lockdown has and still is a time of disconnection from Christian families. A time of experiencing alternative church services all over the country, the world but belonging to none. A time of losing vitality, fading and being turned away from the one who maintains our health and encourages our growth.
 
We know that God never turns away from us, no matter what we’ve done or not done. We know he always gives us freedom to lead our own lives and to choose to follow him and be sustained by him. He never forces, frightens or intimidates. He invites and he waits patiently for us to put our lives before him and then to form that loving, everlasting relationship which guides and provides for us and restores us in beauty and in strength.
 
So I will not turn the pot. I will enjoy the sunflower in its connection to the sun where it is flourishes. And I will ask God to restore my strength and my vitality in Him and choose to be connected to my Maker and follow him through these ever changing days.
Find out more about Self-Reliant Groups: http://www.church-poverty.org.uk/srg 

The Collective, Episode 2 – Community responses

Sheffield Poverty Update, September 2020

SPARK newsletter, autumn 2020

Book review: No Fixed Abode

3 key ways we will be challenging poverty this autumn: Join us

Church Action on Poverty North East 2020 AGM, 25 September

The Collective, Episode 2 – Community responses

Book review: No Fixed Abode

3 key ways we will be challenging poverty this autumn: Join us

Self-reliant group facilitator, Laura Walton, writes about how to have fun this summer, whatever the weather.

“We’re all going on a summer holiday
No more working for a week or two
Fun and laughter on our Summer holiday
No more worries for me or you…..”
 
And it goes on. Only for most of us we’re not comfortable going anywhere, or we would have been only it got cancelled, or quarantine rules ruled out that week in the sun, or the money simply ran out. Our children will have slogged through over a term and a half of online school, or school courtesy of Mum, or Dad or another very valuable person and they deserve a treat and a well earned rest.
Those on furlough will have experienced that end of term euphoria, last day before a holiday feeling and it may already have faded as the weeks have passed. Some of us face so much uncertainty about the future that paying to go and sleep somewhere else whilst carrying those worries around is out of the question.
 
So what can be done to mark the summer if not the summer holiday? Manchester’s rain as ever doesn’t fill us with much hope for some days out.
It is daunting especially for families. We desperately want to give our kids some fun after all they’ve been through. But fun doesn’t need to cost money. Fun is simple activities injected with positive attitude, agreeing to look silly and a willingness to laugh loud and long.
 
In our SRG Brew this week we were thinking about family challenges, inside and outside and cooking challenges. Pizza making, star gazing, dressing up and mud pies, sometimes the old games are still the best. We needn’t feel anxious about the “summer holiday” at home. We can share ideas and try out new things. And as long as we free ourselves up from other demands instead of trying to fit activities into a non summer timetable, we can be confident that fun will be enjoyed by all.
 
We do have enough time in the day for having fun. What sort of a Father would God be if we weren’t encouraged to have fun and enjoy what is all around us and with those we care for?
 
Laughter is a gift from God. It helps you cope with the sadness of everyday life. Laughing just makes you feel better and more relaxed…..ever tried laughing when your whole body is tense? Painful!
 
“Blessed are you who weep now for you will laugh.” Luke 6:21
This line is part of a much longer passage in the book of Luke in the Bible which identifies the ethic behind living a life for God. It is full of his promises and gives the follower comfort in their low times and reassurance and hope for the future. Don’t we all need that? It takes us through the tears into the laughter.
So as we welcome the rain this summer, splash each other in the puddles, shiver with our wet patches then warm up with hot chocolates at home, know that our Father in heaven is laughing with us.
Find out more about Self-Reliant Groups: http://www.church-poverty.org.uk/srg .

The Collective, Episode 2 – Community responses

Sheffield Poverty Update, September 2020

SPARK newsletter, autumn 2020

Book review: No Fixed Abode

3 key ways we will be challenging poverty this autumn: Join us

Church Action on Poverty North East 2020 AGM, 25 September

The Collective, Episode 2 – Community responses

Book review: No Fixed Abode

3 key ways we will be challenging poverty this autumn: Join us

Physical distancing presents problems for food banks, says Charlotte Killeya (a trustee at Parson Cross Initiative and Emergency Food Co-ordination Officer at Voluntary Action Sheffield).

Our local group in Sheffield

 f you walked into the church on a Friday before the Covid-19 crisis, it was always busy. 

Volunteers at Parson Cross Initiative would start early: setting up the social café, organising the food stall deliveries from Fareshare and a local greengrocer, sorting food ready to make up emergency food parcels before an afternoon of welcoming people and offering them support. 

During the afternoon there was always plenty of food to eat and people would sit together and talk. It was rarely quiet. The volunteers I work alongside were amongst it all and they were there to listen. The conversations they and I had may have begun with why people needed support for that particular week, but would often go onto talking about things that had happened weeks and months before which had led people to visiting us. 

As Covid-19 hit, many food banks like our own have simply not been able to operate as before. Distressingly, just as record numbers of adults and children are turning to the charity sector to help provide them with food, the social, face-to-face aspect of our work has had to cease or dramatically reduce. 

Recently, a national coalition of anti-poverty charities including the Trussell Trust and the Independent Food Bank Network have reported record increases in the number of people needing support.       

The Trussell Trust saw an 89% increase in the need for emergency food parcels during April 2020 compared with the same period last year; the Independent Food Aid Network saw a 175% increase for the same period

There is a deep concern that due to the lack of the social aspects of what charities and food banks provide, people are increasingly isolated. During the crisis, the safest option has been to deliver food parcels to people’s doorsteps or give them out at the doors of buildings, ensuring people physically distance themselves from one another. But handing a food parcel to someone will only help so far – and food banks are acutely aware of this. 

As Jackie Butcher, co-ordinator of Grace Food Bank and co-chair of the Sheffield Food Bank Network, says, providing a food parcel is only part of the story.

“We don’t just hand out food parcels – we build relationships”.

For Jackie, the need for a food parcel is “the presenting issue”. A critical role of food banks is to support and signpost people to other agencies and organisations who can help, such as Citizens Advice or Shelter.

Nicola White and Susan Vinall of Fir Vale Food Bank tell a similar story. For them,

“food is a way of bringing people together.”

Before Covid-19, their community meals sat alongside the food bank and were an important part of building relationships. 

“Often people don’t open up straight away. It takes time to work through what might be happening and what support they need

This social aspect of what the team at Fir Vale do helps people to get to know one another and feel less isolated. It’s never been about “just about receiving a food parcel.” 

When Vin was first referred to a food bank last year he explained that alongside the parcel he received, he got so much more support. A Citizens Advice adviser helped him with his benefits and budgeting, and volunteers spent time getting to know him and making him

“feel part of things I’ve got to know so many local people. I want to help people in my community because I know what it’s like to go to a food bank.”

Terry, who helps at a Sheffield food bank, has at times needed food support himself. He believes that the social side of what the food bank offered is just as important as the food.

It gave me the time and the chance to talk to people. That’s important, especially if you are on your own. Sometimes you look fine on the outside, but you aren’t on the inside, and you need someone to talk it through with.” 

Terry explains that out of those conversations, you find out about the skills and talents that people have.

“We have all sorts of different groups like gardening, art and music. We find out what people are interested in and encourage them to join or help them find a group nearby. At the end of the day, it’s about valuing people and building friendships.” 

For Susan and Nicola at Fir Vale Food Bank, the devastating impact of Covid-19 has been that

“the social aspect of our work was the first thing to go and will likely be the last thing we can put in place.”

Like many charities, the team have worked hard in trying to maintain contact with people they support through phone calls and emails. 

Across the city we have seen things like online coffee mornings, quizzes and befriending helplines, and arts and crafts materials being delivered to people as ways of staying connected to people. But Susan and Nicola are concerned for people who are falling through the cracks.

As Ben Pearson from Church Action on Poverty highlights,

“many of the individuals I work alongside have become more socially isolated during Covid-19, whether that’s because a local group has had to close or they’re digitally excluded so they can’t participate in online activity… [The] vital connections that have been lost have had a significant impact [on their] mental health and wellbeing.” 

The impact of Covid-19 and personal experiences springing from it will take a long time to work through. Food banks, charities and community groups will continue to find ways of connecting with people and supporting them. We will continue to campaign on the reasons why people need their support in the first place, what policymakers should be doing to address poverty, and endeavour to share peoples’ experiences in an empowering, honest and non-judgemental way. 

In all of this, we must never lose sight of the fact that food insecurity and social isolation often go hand in hand – and that the emergency food parcel is only ever part of the story. 


This article first appeared in ‘Poverty Update’, the newsletter of our local group in Sheffield.

The Collective, Episode 2 – Community responses

Sheffield Poverty Update, September 2020

SPARK newsletter, autumn 2020

Book review: No Fixed Abode

3 key ways we will be challenging poverty this autumn: Join us

Church Action on Poverty North East 2020 AGM, 25 September

Let’s walk upon the water

A walk in the park

Look after each other

Are you a sun worshipper of follower?

We’re all going on a summer holiday

Food insecurity and social isolation in Sheffield

Love and unity in a UK food desert

Sheffield Poverty Update August 2020

Vacancy: Your Local Pantry Scottish Development Worker

Vacancy: Challenge Poverty Week Intern

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The Collective, Episode 2 – Community responses

Book review: No Fixed Abode

3 key ways we will be challenging poverty this autumn: Join us

Our latest podcast episode hears how community pantries have responded to the pandemic. Hit the play button below to listen.

The Collective, Episode 2 – Community responses

Sheffield Poverty Update, September 2020

SPARK newsletter, autumn 2020

Book review: No Fixed Abode

3 key ways we will be challenging poverty this autumn: Join us

Church Action on Poverty North East 2020 AGM, 25 September

The Collective, Episode 2 – Community responses

Book review: No Fixed Abode

3 key ways we will be challenging poverty this autumn: Join us

Poverty Update is the regular newsletter of the local Church Action on Poverty group in Sheffield.

The August 2020 issue includes details of plans for a virtual Pilgrimage, and an in-depth article about food insecurity and social isolation. 

The Collective, Episode 2 – Community responses

The Collective, Episode 2 – Community responses

Book review: No Fixed Abode

3 key ways we will be challenging poverty this autumn: Join us