As 2020 makes way for 2021, let us highlight and commend people and projects working wonders in their communities.

Amid the sadness and upheaval of 2020, there has been much from which we can draw hope.

Communities have responded with compassion, urgency and ingenuity to the immediate needs of neighbours, and spoken up against unjust systems.

We have worked with professional photographers to capture some of these anti-poverty stars, telling the stories of their wonderful work, and we’ve sent photo calendars to our regular supporters.

1. Poetry v Poverty

Poet Matt Sowerby has helped to raise vital voices. He is pictured here in Birmingham,. Photo by Madeleine Penfold.

In the spring, poet Matt Sowerby began working with people in poverty, to look at the unequal effects of the pandemic, discussing people’s experiences and insights, and working together to articulate their perspectives.

The result was Same Boat?, an anthology of eloquent and incisive poetry, launched with an online reading. Copies have been sent to public libraries in some of England’s biggest cities and are on sale here.

2). Thriving together, striving for action

Three members of Thrive Teesside, including blog author Tracey Herrington
Coy, Tracey and Dylan are part of the team at Thrive Teesside, in Stockton. As well as camoaigning nationally for meaningful change, the group this year produced a wonderful new creative book . Photo by Madeleine Penfold.

With similar motives, Thrive Teesside in Stockton published Thriving Teesside. Through prose, poetry, photography and art, local residents reflect on their hometown, poverty, the pandemic and social injustice. Thrive is a frequent inspiration to many of us in this sector, striving not only to be heard, but to bring about change based on what local people have lived and learned.

3. The Poverty Truth movement

Wayne Green from Hear My Story in Worthing
Wayne Green of Hear My Story is working to set up a Poverty Truth Commission, inspired by others around the country. Photo by Philip Flowers.

Projects such as Hear My Story in Shoreham and Worthing ensure local people’s experiences are heard and empowered. Poverty can be overcome by putting local decision makers and people with personal experience of poverty together, and harnessing everyone’s shared wisdom and vision. 

4. Making our food systems better

Penny Walters, pictured here at Byker Community Centre, volunteers to meet the immediate need in her neighbourhood, but also speaks out nationally and internationally, to help build a more just and compassionate society. Photo by Madeleine Penfold.

Food access has been a big issue this year. We all saw the shortages in the spring, when the precise but fragile supermarket supply chains were disrupted. We’re all aware of the increased need for emergency food aid, as millions more people have been swept into hardship.

We must meet the immediate need but also challenge the systems, to make the future better. In Newcastle, Penny Walters volunteers in local projects, and also shares her insights with politicians and the media.  

5. Compassion and campaigns

York artists Sydnie Corley and Mary Passeri, who run the York Food Justice Alliance at SPARK in Piccadilly, York. Picture by David Harrison.
Artists and campaigners, Sydnie Corley and Mary Passeri, run York Food Justice Alliance and have recently worked with journalists, academics and campaigners to promote poverty solutions. Photo by David Harrison.

Similarly, Sydnie Corley and Mary Passeri run York Food Justice Alliance, re-distributing food to prevent hunger, while also campaigning for lasting solutions, speaking truth to power, and holding flawed systems to account. That’s how change happens.

6. Compassion and campaigns

The Cedarwood Trust worked wonders in North Shields, to maintain community and prevent hunger and isolation. Photo by Madeleine Penfold.

In North Shields, The Cedarwood Trust, 40 years old this year, showed great agility to source, cook and deliver hundreds of hot meals for their neighbours and regulars, and also produced a video to ensure local people were not only recipients of support, but also ambassadors for their own community and its needs.

7. Sticking together and saving money

The Your Local Pantry in Peckham is one of dozens that has helped families stay afloat, while also fostering community. Photo by Madeleine Penfold.

The Your Local Pantry network has adapted and grown in response to the pandemic. Pantries enable people to pay less for essential groceries, ensure access to fresh and varied food, and reduce isolation.

8. All growing together

Between harvests, members of Newquay Community Orchard work with End Hunger Cornwall to campaign for better policies. Photo by Mike Searle.

In Cornwall, Newquay Community Orchard has stepped up its work. It already produces wonderful organic food and provides a space where people can develop their mental health, and it is now setting up a food hub to ensure nobody in their community need go hungry.

9. Let nobody be cut adrift

Nick Waterfield, pioneer minister, pictured at the allotments in Sheffield. Photo by Madeleine Penfold.

Likewise, the Parson Cross Initiative in Sheffield has continually adapted, finding new ways to safeguard local people’s access to food, sustaining community and peace on the shared allotments, and supporting the Our Stories, Our Lives project, ensuring local experiences were understood and listened to.

Time and again, good food, community, compassion and a refusal to accept injustice go hand in hand.

10. Amplifying marginalised voices

Migrant Support helps people who are new to the UK, as they navigate complicated and often unjust systems. Photo by Madeleine Penfold.

The pandemic exposed and intensified inequalities. The way our economy is designed does not always reflect the compassion of our society, as we see, for instance, in the hurdles set before people who have newly arrived in the UK. Projects such as Migrant Support in Manchester are vital, providing practical support, training and social encouragement, and amplifying marginalised voices.

11. Lights, camera, ACTION

Film-maker Brody Salmon has used his talents to shine a light on poverty and to challenge flawed systems. Photo by Madeleine Penfold.

The events of this year have challenged us all, and severely hurt a great many, which has made the ability of people to adapt and keep working creatively against poverty all the more impressive.

The Same Boat, a short film by Brody Salmon, showed the human impact of the pandemic, including on a stressed NHS worker, under pressure in her job and struggling to make ends meet at home,

12. Striking a chord for justice

Music brings people together and captures people’s attention. The Food Glorious Food choir and subsequent guitar circle were born in Sheffield food banks and have helped people here in the Gleadless Valley neighbourhood to raise their voices against poverty and strike a chord for justice.

Our hope in 2021 is that all of us who want to see an end to poverty, and who want to build a better, even more compassionate society, will join in harmony to keep creating messages and movements that cannot be drowned out.

Copies of our 2021 calendar have been sent to regular supporters. If you would like to buy a copy, click here.

Throughout 2021, we will be revisiting the stories in the calendar in depth, introducing you to the people behind the projects, and discussing their ideas and vision for a just and compassionate society.

“When do we riot?” The impact of the cost of living crisis

Invisible Divides

The compassion in these neighbourhood pantries is fantastic!

Making the Economy work for Everyone

SPARK newsletter summer 2022

Cost of living crisis: 6 useful church responses

What is the Right To Food?

Hope story: a united stand against hunger

Vacancy: Speaking Truth to Power Development Coordinator

How we ensure struggles are not ignored

What does the cost of living crisis mean for people in poverty?

Holding the church to account

On the road: recalling the time we took a bus all round Britain

SPARK newsletter winter 2021–22

6 ways we can build dignity, agency & power amid the cost of living crisis

Hope story 1: tenacity and change in Salford

12 stories of hope for 2022 – and immediate actions you can take

How Thrive took control of the agenda in 2021

Annual review 2020–21

2021 conference: watch the recordings

Long read: How do we build dignity, agency & power together?

What happened when Manchester sat down to talk about poverty…

Sheffield Pilgrimage: pandemic boosts community spirit, but leaves physical and mental scars

How grassroots films change views of poverty

13th Sheffield Pilgrimage, 2021

Listen up to level up: why we must rebuild together

Growing crops & community amid the pandemic

“All it needs is people willing to listen”

1,000+ church leaders say: Don’t cut Universal Credit

SPARK newsletter autumn 2021

Lent course for 2022: Life on the Breadline

Our Cookery Book

Keep the Lifeline – sign our open letter to the Prime Minister

Seeking food justice in York

Jayne and Shaun’s story: creativity, self-reliance and truth

Sign the Anti-Poverty Charter!

The story of a Cornish food and community revolution

“You are worthy. Don’t ever give up.”

“When do we riot?” The impact of the cost of living crisis

Invisible Divides

Inside Your Local Pantry in Peckham.

The compassion in these neighbourhood pantries is fantastic!

Maria lives with her husband and two young children. They were paying off their debts, when Covid struck and swept them them into deeper difficulties.

This is her story.

“In March, my husband lost his job. I am not working either, and we already had some debt before that, so had financial difficulties. When he lost his job, our situation got even worse.

“It took two months to get our Universal Credit, and in those two months the situation was really not good at all. We had to borrow from friends and family. My husband has now got a new job, but it will take some time to get rid of the debt.

“At the time when he was not working, it was hard. We hardly bought any food. I went to food banks, and used the local community pantry. There, you pay £4 and get at least ten products, but we hardly entered any shops; we just used local support for food.

“We have two young children, and with difficulty we’ve not bought any clothes or toys. We’ve had some donated from local organisations or friends.

Our mental health has suffered

“Mentally, it has affected me. Even before this pandemic started, my husband was quite depressed and had anxiety. He felt he was the one who had to support us, and provide for the family’s future, and the job he did have had been hard to get.

“He had been unemployed for 18 months before getting that. He was doing really well at work and had been there nearly two years, but they made him and some other people redundant in March when the pandemic hit. He was not furloughed, just made redundant.

“It affected his mental health and mine, especially at the beginning of March when things suddenly dropped and we could not see when things would improve. There were no jobs available, and then when they started to become available again the competition was so high.”

Maria spoke up to support the Reset The Debt campaign, which calls on the Government to help families burdened with Covid-related debt

“We used the food bank and the pantry and some friends gave us clothes for the children. We also borrowed from friends. Credit card bills, money from friends and a loan we already had mean our debt is about £15,000. It was around £7,000 but we’ve had to borrow from friends.

“Even though my husband has a job now, we still need help from the pantry and food bank. We really need to start paying the debts back.” 

We don't want the children to know our struggles

“This time of year is very busy for us. As well as Christmas it’s also both the children’s birthdays. I want the children not to notice the struggles, and to still have a happy childhood. We have had some toys donated from friends, and luckily they are at the age where they won’t know if they’re new from a shop or not.

“Normally, once a year, we like to go and visit my family who live abroad, but I’ve not been for a while now, and the travel rules and our money situation this year mean we can’t.

“We’ve not been able to really buy anything for the house either. It needs some repairs but we can’t afford to repair anything. It’s very difficult; there are everyday comforts we can’t afford. The sink has a big crack in it but we can’t afford to replace it.”

“We were able to get a three-month mortgage holiday but not longer. Once you have a house and mortgage, you don’t expect things to go bad, but they did. We do have some very good friends and we want to pay them back as soon as possible.”

  • ‘Maria’ is a pseudonym

“When do we riot?” The impact of the cost of living crisis

Invisible Divides

The compassion in these neighbourhood pantries is fantastic!

Making the Economy work for Everyone

SPARK newsletter summer 2022

Cost of living crisis: 6 useful church responses

What is the Right To Food?

Hope story: a united stand against hunger

Vacancy: Speaking Truth to Power Development Coordinator

How we ensure struggles are not ignored

“When do we riot?” The impact of the cost of living crisis

Invisible Divides

Inside Your Local Pantry in Peckham.

The compassion in these neighbourhood pantries is fantastic!