Speaking truth to power: Heather and Penny's story

Heather and Penny from Newcastle know what it is like to live with poverty first-hand. With our support, they are working to tackle the injustice that trap them and other people in their neighbourhood of Byker in poverty and hunger. This is their story.

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Imagine a country with no food poverty

No need for food banks. No parents having to skip meals. No more hunger. It’s not a pipe dream; it’s what the UK has committed to achieving by 2030. But how do we get there? How do we create a just, compassionate society in which everyone has assured access to good food? How do we turn the aspiration into achievement?

Tackling hunger head-on

As a starting point, the End Hunger UK campaign calls for a commitment to halving food poverty. The Government and all parties should commit to that goal, as a vital step towards ending hunger altogether. That commitment will ensure the country makes progress early, tackling the underlying causes of hunger, redesigning the parts of the economy that aren’t working properly, and building on the success of people and projects up and down the country who are achieving results on a small scale.

Policy-makers should start by talking to people like Penny and Heather, a mother and daughter in Byker, Newcastle. They have experienced poverty first-hand and seen it all around them among their friends and neighbours. Now they are tackling it head-on, working on new projects that will prevent countless others being swept into hunger.

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We are the ones who have lived it, and who are dealing with it every day, so we know what is going on

———  Heather Walters

What we do is bring all our local organisations and charities together so everyone knows what everyone else is doing, and everyone knows where they can signpost to other things. It’s about trying to connect everyone together.

————  Heather Walters  ————

Nothing about us without us is for us

Social change must be led by people with experience of the issues, and their insight must be at the forefront when it comes to solutions.

Charities and organisations can only see so much, but they do not find out everything from people they are helping. We can know the whole story, from start to finish.

————  Heather Walters  ————

People-powered change: speaking out locally

Heather and Penny are part of Food Power Newcastle, one of 69 community alliances we are working with around the UK. The Food Power programme, run by Church Action on Poverty and Sustain, strengthens the ability of local communities to reduce food poverty in their own neighbourhoods and to tackle its root causes. By bringing together the alliances’ shared knowledge, wisdom and experiences, the programme also helps to propel a growing movement for change.

Heather and Penny became involved in Food Power through the Byker Community Trust, a housing association in their neighbourhood, when they worked together on a community survey. They took part in initial community truth conversations, then met other campaigners and activists at the 2018 End Hunger UK conference.

Heather, Penny and fellow group member Cath also spoke powerfully on Channel 4 News about the problems being caused by Universal Credit, and the anxiety it was causing in communities (see the video above).

10 years ago I had just come out of college, my dad had just left so mum was working part-time and paying the bills and I was paying for food. I was getting less Jobseeker’s Allowance, because I was under 25, and we were struggling then.

———  Heather Walters

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A group from Food Power Newcastle travelled to the House of Lords in October 2018 to talk about food poverty and insecurity, and in July 2019 they met MPs Frank Field and Heidi Allen, who have been travelling the country to hear first-hand about the causes and impacts of hunger.

They have also built up their skills by working with other groups, and in September 2019 they met fellow activists and experts from the United States to share ideas and experiences, at a conference in North Carolina.

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A group from Food Power Newcastle travelled to the House of Lords in October 2018 to talk about food poverty and insecurity, and in July 2019 they met MPs Frank Field and Heidi Allen, who have been travelling the country to hear first-hand about the causes and impacts of hunger.

They have also built up their skills by working with other groups, and in September 2019 they met fellow activists and experts from the United States to share ideas and experiences, at a conference in North Carolina.

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My campaigning is opening people’s eyes to the truth of what is going on, and how so many people feel – but they do not feel they can speak out so I do

———  Penny Walters

Help more people speak truth to power...

Church Action on Poverty has always believed in the importance of people speaking truth to power. Messages are most powerful when they are delivered and heard first-hand, when those with experience of poverty and its causes can speak directly to local and national decision makers.

Food Power is a fantastic project that we are really pleased with. It encourages communities to get active locally, tackling the problems in their own neighbourhood, and unlocking the poverty trap locally, but it also offers opportunities for powerful campaigning and for people to speak truth to power, so we can all work together across society towards a more compassionate country. Food Power Newcastle have done wonderful work, improving their own community and also raising the understanding of MPs, Peers, the media and the wider public.

By giving, acting or praying with us, you can help other people like Heather and Penny to make their voices heard and speak truth to power.

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