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How have Christians responded to poverty during austerity?

Dr Stephanie Denning looks back at what our partners at the 'Life on the Breadline' research programme learned over the last three years. How have Christians responded to poverty during austerity?

Image credit: Beth Waters and Life on the Breadline

More than 15 million people are living in poverty in the UK (Legatum Institute, 2021).  So how are Christians responding to poverty in the UK?

Life on the Breadline has been a three-year research project (2018–21) analysing Christian responses to poverty in the UK during the ‘age of austerity’.  Together the project team – Chris Shannahan, Robert Beckford, Peter Scott, and Stephanie Denning – have undertaken the most in-depth empirical theological analysis to date of poverty in the UK. 

The most recent period of austerity in the UK began over a decade ago following the 2008 global financial crisis.  Visit the Life on the Breadline austerity timeline to learn about key austerity policies and how austerity has affected people’s daily lives.

During the research we interviewed national Church leaders in the UK, undertook an online survey with regional Church leaders in the UK, and spent time with six case studies of groups and projects responding to poverty in different ways. One of our case studies, and our project partner, has been Church Action on Poverty. 

 

Our participants in the Life on the Breadline research

Voices from the grassroots: Life on the Breadline photographic exhibition at Coventry Cathedral

This July, Coventry Cathedral is hosting the Life on the Breadline photographic exhibition.  This is one way in which we are featuring the findings from our research from our time with our six case studies in Birmingham, London, and Manchester.

The exhibition features photographs from our Life on the Breadline grassroots case studies which challenge the way we think about people’s experience of poverty in the UK and how Christians have responded to poverty during the ‘age of austerity’.  The photographs have been taken by the research team and by local residents, volunteers, and staff at the six case study projects.

This short film below gives a taster of the exhibition with reflections from visitors at the exhibition launch:

The exhibition shows that there are many ways that Christians are responding to poverty in the UK, from foodbanks to food pantries, to campaigning on housing injustice and responding to serious youth violence.  Our Life on the Breadline case studies show that these different responses can often overlap – for example, one group or project can both respond to poverty through social action, and campaign for change on the causes of poverty.  Importantly, our research also shows that not every case study defined their work in terms of poverty, recognising the stigma and negative stereotypes that can be associated with the language of poverty.

From the exhibition: Church Action on Poverty’s Your Local Pantry network has adapted and grown in response to the pandemic. Credit: Madeleine Penfold

The exhibition runs in Coventry Cathedral until 28 July 2021 and is free to attend.  To manage Covid-19 restrictions, please book your free ticket here in advance.

Where can I find out more?

Visit the Life on the Breadline website to access a wide variety of resources: 

Dr Stephanie Denning works at the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations, Coventry University.

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Filmmaker Brody Salmon, who has produced powerful films about poverty in his community

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Reset The Debt in Parliament

Well over a thousand supporters of the Reset the Debt campaign wrote to their MPs to ask them to attend a debate on household debt in Parliament on 8 July. Thank you! 

In this guest post, Paul Morrison of the Joint Public Issues Team analyses what was said, and what needs to happen next:


The debate attracted a range of MPs from across the political spectrum, and while a wide range of views and issues were raised and there were disagreements, it was really encouraging to see areas of consensus among MPs.

Covid debt is a problem that needs attention

The most important area of agreement was that household debt is a problem that the lockdown has made much worse. The most quoted number came from a report by our friends at StepChange – that 11 million people in the UK have taken on around £25bn in debt during the pandemic.

There was also an acknowledgement that the effects of lockdowns had been grotesquely unequal, with those already struggling being forced to take on debt, while the more affluent were able to pay off debt and save.

It is great that Parliamentarians from across the political spectrum are now acknowledging the scale of the problem.

Addressing the problem

Contributors to the debate talked about the problems that were building in the system prior to the pandemic. There was a wish to improving lending practices and regulation. There was a recognition, of the reality that low-income families do need to borrow from time to time, so it is vital that ensure that cheap, non-exploitative credit is available.

Concern was expressed about family incomes. A number of contributors, including a Conservative MP, questioned the government’s decision to cut Universal Credit by £20 a week this September, and highlighted that many families coming for debt advice have “negative budgets” – where essential expenditure is greater than total income. The key point being that without adequate income, debt is both inevitable and unaffordable.

Covid household debt

The Reset the Debt campaign is asking that Government recognises that the debt racked up by low-income families during the pandemic the result of an extraordinary situation that requires an extraordinary response.

Genuinely affordable credit for low-income families, better regulation of the sector, and adequate incomes are hugely important – and it is fantastic that Parliament is wrestling with these issues. John Glen, the Government Minister who responded, outlined some welcome plans to make progress on this. We hope they will make things better over the long term, but for the families who had to borrow to survive over the pandemic, their budgets barely worked before the lockdown – so making their budget work with large debt repayments is unimaginable.

Responses to the Covid household debt crisis

The Reset the Debt campaign is asking for the Government to set up a fund to pay off the debts unavoidably racked up by some low-income families during the pandemic. There was some agreement that this debt is a special case, but no consensus around if or how policy should be changed to reflect this.

It was encouraging that some opposition members mentioned our proposals for a debt-write off and proposals from Stepchange for a “contingent loan” scheme to address the huge weight of household debt built during the pandemic. There is some acknowledgement that there needs to be a policy response to Covid household debt – but there is still much work to be done to build agreement around what an appropriate policy response should be.

The next step

Backbench debates rarely result in an immediate change of policy. They can however be an important step towards change by highlighting concerns, exposing areas of agreement and disagreement, and bringing forward new ideas. Thursday’s debate was a step forward.

So thank you to all those who were part of that first step who have taken actions as part of this campaign. Please keep following and share the campaign far and wide so we can gather more people to join in the next steps.

You can watch edited highlights of the debate below.

And if you haven’t contacted your MP about the Covid debt crisis, why not do that now?

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.”

How can policy-makers and churches work together to tackle UK poverty?

How have Christians responded to poverty during austerity?

Reset The Debt in Parliament

Watch the Food Power story

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

Filmmaker Brody Salmon, who has produced powerful films about poverty in his community

How grassroots films change views of poverty

13th Sheffield Pilgrimage, 2021

Watch the Food Power story

As our Food Power programme draws to a close, see how people power has tackled food poverty.

Since 2017 the Food Power programme has been supporting alliances to tackle the root causes of food poverty, giving a voice to people with lived experience, and creating a network of sharing and learning. After four years, the programme is coming to an end in its current form. Help us mark the occasion by watching and sharing this new film showcasing some of the people that put the power in ‘Food Power’.

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

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

Filmmaker Brody Salmon, who has produced powerful films about poverty in his community

How grassroots films change views of poverty

13th Sheffield Pilgrimage, 2021

How we can use poetry to accelerate social change

Poet Matt Sowerby harnesses the power and resolve of people in poverty.

Matt started using his skills as a route to social justice, when he became involved in the End Hunger UK campaign. From there, he hasn’t looked back. 

In 2020, he became poet in digital residence at Church Action on Poverty, and worked with fantastic campaigners around the country to produce Same Boat? a powerful anthology of poems based upon poverty and the pandemic. 

Poetry as a force for good

Church Action on Poverty supporters might recognise Matt, as he is the July feature in the 2021 Dignity, Agency, Power calendar. This week, Matt and our Food Power officer, Ben Pearson, caught up on Zoom, and you can listen to the conversation on our latest podcast here:

Poetry can make the world a better place

In the podcast, Matt tells how and why he became involved in social justice movements. 

He tells listeners: “I’m really interested in the way that poetry can be activism and poetry can make the world a better place. I think especially in this sector, there are some things that are so unjust you feel you need to do something about it.”

He says: “There’s a very thin line between making something, and making a change, so I think it does teach us something about our agency and the ways we can make a difference in the world, the more we engage in the arts.”

Matt talks about the number of people who became creative at the start of the pandemic, turning to the arts as a vital response to the crisis. He talks also of poetry as having the power to fossilise the feelings of a particular moment, and he and Ben talk of the empowering force of the Same Boat? anthology. 

Matt says: “The feedback I got was that it did mean so much to so many people, to engage in the process but also to be able to say ‘I am a published poet’ at the end of that and to know that for the rest of their lives, that that is part of who they are.”

 

  • All photos in this article are by Madeleine Penfold.

Other 2021 calendar stories:
Dignity, Agency and Power

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

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

Filmmaker Brody Salmon, who has produced powerful films about poverty in his community

How grassroots films change views of poverty

13th Sheffield Pilgrimage, 2021

Why does digital exclusion matter?

Why does digital exclusion matter? That's the question being explored by our friends at the APLE Collective during June 2021, APLE Month. We invited Tracey Herington to explore the issue in this guest blog.

About the APLE Collective

You may well ask what is APLE and why have an APLE month? APLE  is a growing coalition of groups and individuals who have experience of poverty, hence the name Addressing Poverty with Lived Experience. The emphasis here being with lived experience. All too often decision- and policy-makers have done things to people and on their behalf. Sometimes we could assume with the best of interests and other times, we could rightly say not with our best interests at heart.

The real experts

Expertise has often been associated with knowledge and knowledge has presumably connotations of formal accepted routes relating to education, certificates or letters after your name. But this is most certainly not true. Expertise and insight come in many different forms. It is the lady down the street who is looking after her grandchildren and is fully appreciative of the lack of appropriate policy responses to carers and their families. It is the guy who has been working a zero-hours contract for the past three years and has no financial security. It is the family who are suffering due to the inadequate levels of child benefit, the two-child limit and rising child care costs. My examples of real-life experiences could continue.

Digital exclusion and the pandemic

During this very challenging year, we have seen the amplification of the very real difficulties faced in our communities. These difficulties are not new, but have intensified and come to the fore. Digital exclusion is one of the many issues preventing people from fully participating in everyday life. Lockdowns led to everything going online – homeschooling, accessing services, staying in touch, connecting with others, accessing a Universal Credit account and searching for jobs. Prior to the pandemic, many people would pop to the local library to log into their journals, pay a council tax bill, meet up with others. What was once an overwhelmingly lengthy process to access entitlements – Personal Independence Payments, for example – became nigh on impossible. No face-to-face meetings, no assessments, no one-to-one support and no way of knowing where to access help because all the help and support was advertised through websites and social media.

Why does digital exclusion matter?

Imagine feeling silenced and cut off from the outside world at the best of times – what if you had no device, no data and little confidence to navigate the many social platforms? This is why the debate around digital exclusion matters. If you are not digitally excluded, how could you possibly comprehend the difficulties and limitations of this situation and how could you possibly meaningfully develop solutions that could actually work?

APLE Month

APLE don’t just talk about the issue or gather stories, we use the insight from personal experiences, coordinate ourselves, make friends, gain allies and seek support from others.

Click here to see the response to date from APLE around the digital divide 

For the month of June, The APLE Collective are highlighting and celebrating all of the organisations, charities and individuals who have lived experience of poverty or use their voice to campaign against poverty and inequality. I suppose we would rather not have to amplify the voice of silenced groups. We would much prefer to be commenting upon how fair and equal society was and then showcasing other things. We work tirelessly to ensure positive change and are proud of our members and supporters.

“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!

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

Filmmaker Brody Salmon, who has produced powerful films about poverty in his community

How grassroots films change views of poverty

13th Sheffield Pilgrimage, 2021

Wayne’s story: Why I (and you) must refuse to be invisible

“We all want a better world. We have the money, we have the expertise, we have the technologies. It’s just political will.”

Wayne Green from Hear My Story in Worthing

Those are the words of Wayne Green (pictured above) who has been striving to improve society for more than 25 years. 

He was first moved to act by his own experience of eviction, poverty and injustice, but he has gone on to take part in many powerful campaigns locally and nationally. 

And he keeps going still today.

Wayne is the June feature in Church Action on Poverty’s Dignity, Agency, Power calendar. We asked him to talk about some of the work he has been involved in, but also to outline his own path to campaigning, his inspiration to keep going, and the lessons he would share with younger campaigners seeking to make society better.

Wayne: why I started campaigning

I got involved because I had two young children. At that time, I had been made unemployed as a young man, my wife had just given birth and we were renting a flat in Worthing and when the baby was three months old we were evicted.

I was shocked because I came from a middle class background and I had never experienced anything like this before. Here I was with my wife and three-month-old baby with no work, nowhere to go, nowhere to live and I was shocked.

I put my baby in a cardboard box, wrapped up in a woollen cot sheet and we went in the back of a garage van at 9 o’clock at night and drove for 12 hours to Cornwall to live with my mother in law.

I was really angry. I was told at local authority ‘sorry, can’t help you’. That was it. I thought ‘oh my gosh, what do I do?!’

Later we moved back and ended up in Shoreham an as we moved in to this new flat we managed to rent. 

This woman over the road saw us and almost adopted us. Jocelyn Underwood. She was an inspiration to me and a guiding light to me on the issue of social exclusion and poverty and the work of the church, and justice and peace, and also the issues of good local people and what can be achieved.

She basically said to me: you can do anything, and always challenge the system. She was very inspirational and she brought together a group of church goers at our local church. St Mary de Haura.

She was so giving as well but above all her connections were unbelievable within justice and peace groups locally and the church and she was eloquent, she could out-talk any politician.

Some of the reports Wayne has contributed to

Starting to speak up

I spoke at the first National Poverty Hearing. That was quite an interesting and really giant move, not just for myself but local society and national society. I think that’s something that did change society very deeply.

We started a group called Adur: Local People National Voice and we put together our first ever poverty hearing in the local area and we attracted 300 local people. Our local MP didn’t turn up but other local politicians did and Church Action on Poverty came down and gave us full support.

It was interesting to turn the dynamics round. Here we were, a group of six of us on a panel who were in poverty, unemployed, speaking to our local decision makers and local population, and that was new.

At the Hearing, Wayne described poverty as “a battle of invisibility and being blamed for society’s problems.”

That’s how I felt it and that’s how I still see it. It’s exactly what’s happening today. The experience of being part of a poverty hearing, going up and speaking to 600 leaders was quite frightening but the process leading up to it was quite empowering. It broke a lot of barriers. Being poor in the south is still going without food, as you would in the north. There’s a lot of similarities that broke down barriers.

We had a really good core group of people around us who would nurture us as well. and we found that was good and gave us access to a huge amount of people you’d never believe, like politicians, church leaders. I used to pinch myself, saying ‘Am I meeting these people, are they actually listening to me? You couldn’t believe it in some sense. We call it imposter syndrome now.

The Houses of Parliament

What happened next?

Wayne helped to organise a further local poverty hearing in Worthing, and after some persuading Sir Peter Bottomley MP attended.

He came to the meeting but I think it shocked him, the level of interest at that meeting.

The National Poverty Hearing itself, to my mind, unified the conscience of the country. It pricked the conscience and said ‘here we are’. We were opposite the House of Lords, the Houses of Parliament and we were saying ‘come over and speak to us’. Unfortunately, the leaders of the parties didn’t come but other politicians did. I remember in the afternoon a massive argument started in Parliament and I thought ‘at last, we’re having a proper debate’, which was good. It was quite empowering.

Next up was the Future Of Work report, which influenced the thinking of many politicians, including Gordon Brown when he was the incoming Labour chancellor in the 1990s.

I have a copy of that report here and I still read it today and that was very, very interesting to get involved in. You actually felt you had something really to say and people were prepared to listen and we were part of this policy group that went across the nation and brought people together and we covered everything you cover today. I was just reading the issue of flexibility. Flexibility for who? This was 20 years ago and there’s a woman in this report and she talks about flexibility with no contracts. 20 years ago!

Networks of support are vital

Those with first-hand experience through Church Action on Poverty were encouraged to meet once a month or once a quarter, and put our findings together of our experiences of policy. And we covered all the areas of the benefit system, the welfare system, we covered all the areas of work, housing, tax, food, living, but most importantly how society sees you at the local level and national level.

That’s where I said what I still say today: poverty is a battle of invisibility. It’s not being seen and if those in power do see you, they will see you but not let you join in on the actual policies themselves.

Speaking truth to power

Speaking “truth to power” and having agency as an actor can be difficult and can be very challenging. But at the same time, you are speaking to human beings, and human beings do have the capacity to change.

My experience over the 25 years is if I was to put all those reports together, you would see there have been some dynamic changes, such as understanding of mental health issues, understanding the importance of policy, but what we are actually seeing is a harsher world to live in if you are poor.

For example, Hear My Story is working towards a Poverty Truth Commission. You’re seeing community trying to do more themselves, but we had quite a lot of resistance that I was quite shocked about.

What has kept you going?

If I go back into my personal life… I was adopted, I also have Black African-Caribbean ancestors who were slaves. I think there’s a genetic resistance in me; I want to see a better world. I care about the world.

I’m not a truly religious Sunday person, but I believe all faiths have a golden thread running through them and I believe it is possible to change society and one must keep going on this issue.

I also get inspiration from other people. Young people give me more inspiration today. How is it that I see so many older people saying ‘ohh, what’s to be done in the world?’ and you’ve got young people ride up saying, ‘I’ve had enough’.

Church towers in York
Wayne has worked with the church over the years and says it is a fundamental pillar of change

What do you see as the church's role?

Jesus was a radical. He was on the outside and he saw change. Not only that, if you look at other issues of the church, its roots are deeper than politics in the community. I find the church an area that does actually listen to you. If you talk to a local vicar, you’ll probably find they’re very academic people, quite willing to listen. 

I’ve been critical of the church, saying it’s become too middle class and feels too safe, and won’t want to go on the radical side of life but it’s slowly having to because of our morals and ethics. For me the church is a fundamental pillar for change.

Lastly Wayne... what do you say to newer campaigners?

First and foremost, your experience is proof that you exist. Secondly, you are equal to anyone else and your knowledge is probably more than the person you talk to who wants to know. Thirdly, I’d say to young people, don’t ever give up on a cause, because that’s what they want you to do, to walk away. Don’t. Be a thorn in their side. Rock that boat. Be a troublemaker! Troublemakers help change.

Believe in yourself. The experience you have is unique to you. Poverty is a battle of invisibility and you must be seen. Demand to be seen. And don’t ask for the lowest. Why should we ask for the lowest? We want the best out of our society. And everyone should have the best.

Why do I work with Church Action on Poverty after all these years? What I have benefited from is seeing change within systems and structures that others don’t see.

The support mechanisms are very important as well. People do care and having that sisterhood or brotherhood matters. You’re all different but have all experienced the pain, the hurt, the disillusionment, the exclusion of being outside society. But also, if you work hard all together, change can occur. It has to.

“We all want a better world. We have the money, we have the expertise, we have the technologies. It’s just political will.”

Listen to the podcast:

Other 2021 calendar stories:
Dignity, Agency and Power

Why does digital exclusion matter?

62% want action on income inequality. So, what do we do?

Wayne’s story: Why I (and you) must refuse to be invisible

SPARK newsletter, summer 2021

Building Dignity, Agency and Power Together

What I’ve learnt as an anti-poverty activist

Sheffield Church Action on Poverty Update, May 2021

Listening…

How should we talk about poverty in the 2020s?

What’s the best way to reduce the stigma of food poverty?

Food insecurity: now we have the data, it’s time to act

Hold the moment

Why did I write Second Class Citizens and what can we learn?

David Goodbourn Lecture 2021 – register now

A week that changed everything….

‘Life on the Breadline’ announces their End of Project Conference, 24-25th June 2021

Look up child

The Final Push

Sheffield Church Action on Poverty Update, March 2021

International Women’s Day – Sheroes

How do you build dignity & power with people new to the UK?

Right-wing and Left-wing Christian Approaches to Poverty

Speaking of poverty, differently

7 ways a Your Local Pantry could help YOUR neighbourhood

2021 stories: how friends are striking a chord for justice and unity

Annual review 2019–20

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

Filmmaker Brody Salmon, who has produced powerful films about poverty in his community

How grassroots films change views of poverty

13th Sheffield Pilgrimage, 2021

SPARK newsletter, summer 2021

Click on the right to download the latest issue of SPARK, our newsletter for supporters of Church Action on Poverty.

SPARK newsletter autumn 2021

Lent course for 2022: Life on the Breadline

Our Cookery Book

What I’ve learnt as an anti-poverty activist

When dozens of people are talking at once, how can you make yourself heard?

When you speak to people in positions of great power, how do you retain your own?

Penny Walters outside Byker Community Association

In this month’s Dignity, Agency, Power story, Penny Walters from Newcastle addresses these questions.

In this blog, Penny talks about her own experiences of campaigning for food justice. She also shares some of the lessons she has learnt along the way. And she recaps on what it is she’s hoping to achieve.

Penny Walters outside Byker Community Association

What do we mean by agency?

Put simply, agency is the essential autonomy and ability of each individual to say and do what they believe in, and to do what it is they want to do.

Social justice movements are made up of countless people, with different experiences and perspectives. Activists, supporters, charities, professionals, politicians and more all come together at times – and often all have a view on what should be done.

At Church Action on Poverty, we believe people with personal experience of poverty should be heard above all others. We have always worked closely with people, and we always aspire to ensure campaigns and media work are led and directed by people who have lived the issues.

Penny Walters at Byker Community Association

Penny's work

In the past few years, Penny has been one of the people with whom we have worked most closely.

She and her daughter Heather have been part of the Food Power Newcastle group. They’ve been interviewed on Channel 4 News. They’ve spoken to MPs and a committee of the House of Lords. They’ve travelled to America to share their insights with international organisations. And they’ve frequently spoken up about the challenges in their community, with a view to making things better – and all while volunteering in local food projects as well.

In a previous blog in 2019, Penny said: “When we went to the End Hunger UK conference in 2018, we just expected to turn up for the conference and talk to some people, and that would be it. I did not expect all the things it would lead to but it has been very exciting and I am pleased with what we have achieved, and certainly there is more yet to come.”

Penny, Cath and Heather are interviewed for Channel 4 News.
Penny, Heather and Cath are interviewed by in 2018 by Channel 4 News, at the End Hunger UK conference

5 tips for aspiring activists

Two years on, Penny shares a few tips she has learnt from campaigning, which others might find useful:

  1. “Speak up. Shout loudest. It’s the only way to be heard. People in power don’t always want to listen, or they are used to listening to each other, or they have their own ideas. You need to make yourself heard. I’ve always had views but for a long time I did not voice them. Now I do.”
  2. “Have someone fight your corner. It can be difficult or daunting doing a lot of things. If you have someone who stands up with you, it makes all the difference. So for instance, Ben at Church Action on Poverty is very good at doing that when he’s working on anything with me. People working with charities should make sure there’s someone they can count on.”
  3. “Don’t think you can’t do it. Inside you sometimes feel daunted, but if you know deep down you can do something, then do it, and you’ll be glad you did. You can do this if you have the will and support. But, at the same time…
  4. Do what you want to do. Make sure you say no if something doesn’t feel right, and make sure you can genuinely give your ideas, so you’re not just going along with what other people are saying.”
  5. Take it step by step. The first thing I did was go to an End Hunger conference and do a TV interview, and from there a lot of other things have happened. Do what you are able to do now, and then you can do a bit more and a bit more.”
Penny Walters at Byker Community Association

How Penny got started

Penny and Heather 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 met other campaigners at the 2018 End Hunger UK conference and stepped up their efforts.

Penny says the Food Power experience has been powerful for her personally, and says she is now motivated to speak for those who are rarely heard by the country’s decision makers.

2021 stories: Dignity, Agency, Power

The May page of the 2021 Dignity, Agency, Power calendar

This blog is the latest in our Dignity, Agency, Power series. Each story relates to the photo on that month’s page of our 2021 calendar. All photos on this page are by Madeleine Penfold. See other stories below.

The story of a Cornish food and community revolution

“You are worthy. Don’t ever give up.”

How can policy-makers and churches work together to tackle UK poverty?

How have Christians responded to poverty during austerity?

Reset The Debt in Parliament

Watch the Food Power story

How we can use poetry to accelerate social change

Activism, struggle and superpowers

Why does digital exclusion matter?

62% want action on income inequality. So, what do we do?

Wayne’s story: Why I (and you) must refuse to be invisible

SPARK newsletter, summer 2021

Building Dignity, Agency and Power Together

What I’ve learnt as an anti-poverty activist

Sheffield Church Action on Poverty Update, May 2021

Listening…

How should we talk about poverty in the 2020s?

What’s the best way to reduce the stigma of food poverty?

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

Filmmaker Brody Salmon, who has produced powerful films about poverty in his community

How grassroots films change views of poverty

13th Sheffield Pilgrimage, 2021

Sheffield Church Action on Poverty Update, May 2021

The newsletter of our local group in Sheffield

This issue includes:

  • Details of upcoming online talks on 26 May and 23 June
  • Details of the local group’s AGM on 7 July
  • Updates on the ‘Reset the Debt’ and Living Wage campaigns
  • Commentary by group members on current politics

Find out more about the local group in Sheffield here

Sign up for updates

We will send regular emails, with: stories of how people in our network are working together; actions you can take to call for change; and materials for prayer and reflection.

SPARK newsletter autumn 2021

Lent course for 2022: Life on the Breadline

Our Cookery Book

What’s the best way to reduce the stigma of food poverty?

How do we safeguard food access without compromising on dignity?

Your Local Pantry, through its rapid growth, is showing an answer to that question.

Charities and community groups have wrestled with the issue for years. But the pantry network has been a beacon of hope in the past year.

58 photos: Scroll through the images of Peckham Pantry, by Madeleine Penfold.

In a compassionate society, everyone should have access to a choice of good food, free from anxiety and stigma. Achieving that, however, has often proven difficult.

We need Government action to ensure all household incomes cover living costs. But while we press for that, we also need dignified projects here and now, to loosen poverty’s grip.

The Your Local Pantry approach is proving particularly effective. Peckham Pantry features on the April page of the 2021 Dignity, Agency, Power calendar, and in the photos on this page. It is, however, part of a much larger network. In the past year, the number of such shops in the UK has risen from 14 to 43, supporting more than 9,000 adults and almost 14,000 children.

Inside Your Local Pantry in Peckham.
A volunteer at Your Local Pantry in Peckham

How does the pantry model work?

The model is simple. Anyone who lives in a neighbourhood served by a Your Local Pantry can join.

Members pay a small weekly subscription of a few pounds, and in return they can choose around £20 to £25 a week of groceries from the wide and varied stock. It’s a shop in all but name, but members can save nearly £1,000 a year compared to supermarket prices. Stock is supplied through the food redistribution charity FareShare and local suppliers in each area.

The team at Your Local Pantry in Peckham

How do pantries differ from food banks and other projects?

There are several differences. Firstly, and most profoundly, pantries maintain people’s dignity.

Pantries do not hand out food to strangers at moments of severe personal crisis. They create and strengthen communities that work together to reduce the risk of crisis ever happening.

They are bustling, upbeat food clubs that people enjoy all year round. They are places where relationships and communities grow, and there are many resultant benefits:

  • People save on their shopping, freeing up money for other essentials or leisure activities
  • Members make new friends
  • Diet improves
  • People’s physical and mental health improve
  • Many members said that, during lockdowns in particular, the pantries were a vital lifeline and reassurance.

How we picture poverty

The photos in this article were captured by photographer Madeleine Penfold, who teamed up with Church Action on Poverty last autumn as part of our work to improve the way poverty is represented.

She visited the Peckham Pantry, run by Pecan. There, in the midst of the pandemic, members were cherishing the chance to see one another from a safe distance, access their food without anxiety or stigma, and keep their relationships and community going in difficult times.

Supplies at Your Local Pantry in Peckham
Members outside Your Local Pantry in Peckham

Peckham members were among those to contribute to the recent Your Local Pantry impact report, along with members from around England, Scotland and Wales. 

What pantry members say:

“Being a Pantry member has made a dramatic difference to my financial situation. As a single parent, things can be extremely tight. The Pantry provides plenty to enable me to prepare meals and snacks. And the staff are a bonus! It’s taken a burden from my shoulders.”
Another told us she had gone on to do a cooking course through the Pantry, and said: “I learned how to make a few meals I have never tried before such as a new spicy rice full of veg and flavour and mixed bean tortilla that are now firm favourites in my house.”
“In the first stages of the lockdown, I don’t think I could have coped without the Pantry. I didn’t have time to queue at the shop after work and the few times I attempted it, the shelves were bare. The Pantry guys delivered our bags and some cheer each week.”
“It brings it all back to the community and feels like we are shopping local. I prefer this to shopping at a supermarket.”
“Being a member has allowed my family to save money and buy more fresh meat that is halal, as they are Muslim and find it difficult to afford halal meat.”
A team member at Your Local Pantry in Peckham

Why are so many pantries opening?

Pantries have proliferated for a couple of main reasons. 

Firstly, because organisations have seen and want to emulate the difference they make.  And secondly, because we’ve all been reminded in this pandemic of the importance of community and mutual support. 

Local neighbourhoods can and should be at the forefront of developing pandemic responses that can work and last. Setting up a dynamic, inclusive, community-focused project like a pantry is the perfect way to start.

What does the future hold?

Councils, school trusts, churches, a GP surgery and numerous grassroots groups have embraced the approach, aided and inspired by one another. 

As the network grows, pantries can continue to build dignity, choice and hope for thousands more people. And, we will be well on the way to having a better, stronger society, where nobody is cut adrift or neglected.

Other 2021 calendar stories

Watch the Food Power story

How we can use poetry to accelerate social change

Activism, struggle and superpowers

Why does digital exclusion matter?

62% want action on income inequality. So, what do we do?

Wayne’s story: Why I (and you) must refuse to be invisible

SPARK newsletter, summer 2021

Building Dignity, Agency and Power Together

What I’ve learnt as an anti-poverty activist

Sheffield Church Action on Poverty Update, May 2021

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How should we talk about poverty in the 2020s?

What’s the best way to reduce the stigma of food poverty?

Food insecurity: now we have the data, it’s time to act

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Why did I write Second Class Citizens and what can we learn?

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‘Life on the Breadline’ announces their End of Project Conference, 24-25th June 2021

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Sheffield Church Action on Poverty Update, March 2021

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

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