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.
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.”
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.
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
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?
- 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)
A report from our 28 May online discussions on what it means to be church on the margins during the pandemic.
Opening reflection from Revd Raj Bharath Patta, on ‘Reimagining Church Today’
How is church being missed today by the community around us?
- Online church is reaching thousands more people than before.
- Are we creating new communities – including people who were not church members before (people who were excluded or marginalised).
- Some people really miss the regular church service.
- God is present in unexpected places.
- Worship, fellowship, communion.
- What is the church for (beyond the church community/friendship)? If the church has no impact in the local community what is it for?
- During C19 we have found God in the community, mutual aid, helping people.
What is our dream if the church has to be reborn? (How do we achieve this?)
- What does ‘church membership’ mean? It does not have to be weekly attendance.
- Church language can be off-putting for new people (e.g. ‘unchurched’).
- Small dreams are important (as well as big dreams).
- Be real, authentic. Walk alongside people. Show God’s love.
- We need a liturgical revolution.
- We need to dream big – a revolution for society.
- Doughnut economics – an alternative to growth economics (see Ted Talk and book by Kate Raworth). People are stuck in the hole in middle, we need to reach out to them.
- Doughnut theology – we need the church to think in terms of people and need, not growth.
- Participation in and with the community (e.g. SRGs, Messy Church). Do not separate the church and community into ‘projects’, see it as a whole.
- Rethink the way we do ministry.
- This could be a moment of transformation for the church and wider society.
- Zoom church is more accessible for some people (e.g. families, people with disabilities).
- We need safe spaces in the community for people of different faiths to come together.
- Reflect on our activities annually and drop one to create energy for something new.
A report from our 21 May online discussions on what it means to be church on the margins during the pandemic.
Opening reflection by Anna Rowlands
What are we learning about what it means to be human (in all of its complexity)?
- Coronavirus brought back commonality? How we experience the situation is different, but we have a shared public life again.
- We already have being human in common, but we put other things in its place, e.g. TV, sport, etc.
- We’re also learning what we don’t have in common, the level of privilege we bring into this situation.
- How could the church misbehave well in public? To protest against unjust structures.
- How could church identify with those who have be made to feel lesser, not enough?
- The lockdown situation has intensified emotions (up and down).
- Missing human contact, being able to give someone a hug.
- We take our freedom for granted. People in prisons are locked down permanently.
- Some people feel cared for now (previously they felt forgotten). Some people are worried about being forgotten again once lockdown ends.
How do we create a genuinely shared world? (What is the Christian contribution to this?)
- We will have to live in both spheres (in person and online).
- Ideals and aspirations for going forward at the beginning of lockdown are already being lost.
- We need to stay open to a multiplicity of voices within the church.
- We must open our ears and hearts.
- Church often acts like it has all the answers, we should humble ourselves.
- We need to be alongside others beyond the walls of church. We can learn a lot from others / people on the margins.
- We still need to help people to shield, people are already forgetting this as things begin to open up.
- The origins of the word idiot – someone who thought they could survive on their own.
- Churches asking ‘how do we survive this?’ – the wrong question to be asking.
- The Church has to go public – faith in public life.
- The model of church needs to change from having a ‘gatekeeper’ to ‘priesthood for all’.
- Share our work and our journeys with each other, especially people doing the same work in different parts of the country.
- Smaller churches have seemed better connected and equipped for true engagement and connection.
Nick Waterfield, who manages a food bank in Sheffield's Parson Cross, reviews this new book by Charles Roding Pemberton (published by SCM Press).
Having been involved in food banks in Sheffield for 10 years, I always approach each new book, article or blog about them with a mix of both excited anticipation and concern. Excitement that the book might just offer me a new and refreshed insight, a new way forward, or – better still – a way out. Concern because too many of the stories reopen shared frustrations, disappointments, trauma and sadness for the lives of all those caught up in the food bank tide.
Justice for those on the margins of the neoliberal global model requires a Christian response that includes our personal and collective responses to both civic society and to God
This book is firstly theological; it is also unashamedly political and personal, as it argues these elements cannot and should not be falsely separated. Justice for those on the margins of the neoliberal global model requires a Christian response that includes our personal and collective responses to both civic society and to God. Although the title suggests a ‘Broken Britain’, the book itself reflects more widely upon a ‘broken’ world, or more accurately global system, dominated by neoliberal cultural norms and policy – a world where the pursuit of a particular kind of capitalism has taken root and changed human relations to society, towards each other, to creation and arguably to God.
Pemberton shares those all-too-familiar stories of food bank Britain with an honesty and humanity, spoken from his experience of County Durham Foodbank, a Trussell Trust food bank where he has been a volunteer. They display the humanity and the contradictions that many of us who are involved in foodbanks will recognise only too easily.
There is certainly no shortage of food involved in the issue of food insecurity
The book ties the international growth in food banks to the spread of neoliberal economics and culture, but importantly it argues that food banks occupy “contradictory spaces” facing both into and away from neoliberal ideology. It points out the international growth in food banks since the 1980s and 90s; it also tracks the corporate links within that international trail, with the likes of Walmart, Kellogs, Unilever, Coca Cola and Pepsico all playing their part. The book looks at the food industry as a whole, from production (in fact overproduction) to retail and all points of food waste in between, and points out how there is certainly no shortage of food involved in the issue of food insecurity.
At heart the book is a thorough theological and political reflection of food banks and the reason for them, and it offers up some genuine and thoughtful challenges to all of us, but especially those involved in the issues of food insecurity, poverty and marginalisation.
To what extent can food banks legitimately see themselves as eucharistic?
The book asks searching theological questions of the Christian community around food banks, questions that I know from personal experience many of us have been asking of ourselves for some time. Perhaps the biggest question it poses to Christians and churches involved in food banks is: to what extent can food banks legitimately see themselves as eucharistic?
The book invites us to each reassess how we see food, and to place it at the heart of our living faith
The book also invites us to each reassess how we see food, and to place it at the heart of our living faith. It challenges us to reconsider our consumption patterns around food, especially meat and dairy, and invites us to think about how through our actions we can make changes to our food production patterns to favour both planet and people. It offers for consideration policies such as UBI (Universal Basic Income) as a possible basis for a new Christian social justice policy approach, and suggests an alternative vision for reoccupying a space beyond neoliberalism, looking at land use, community allotments and growing spaces, and the development of a ‘land activist church’.
Pemberton has crafted a book that is scholarly but not dry and academic; it also feels deeply personal and heartfelt. As if to exemplify this, it contains small sketches (presumably by the author) which sometimes have little artistic merit or justification but offer, to me at least, a genuine sense of the personal reflection contained in the book. Each chapter is packed with references to other writings and pieces of research into food banks and the nature of poverty under neoliberal culture from the UK and overseas, as well as personal references to popular culture from The Life of Brian and the Terminator films to Bob Dylan.
If I were to find any faults in the book they would be minor. Pemberton’s experiences and examples of food banks are perhaps too tied to the Trussell Trust model of which he has been a part, with only passing reference to independent food bank responses that may (in some cases at least) present more of the qualities he rightly challenges for: open access without a ‘voucher system’ of referral, participation from those who also rely on food banks, and more. It also focuses on a very Anglican model of church, again this is to be understood as being from his own experience and tradition. Neither of these in my opinion detract from his central arguments, or in any way devalue the book.
If you’ve ever asked questions about what role the Church has within the food bank movement, this book is a good place to begin. On picking it up (as I said at the start) I’d hoped for refreshed insight, a new way forward or better still a way out. Maybe it’s unrealistic to expect one book to do all that – but at least this one is a start.
Press play to listen:
Three women in north Sheffield share their lockdown insights, including on autism, friendly support, digital exclusion and staying connected
We all need to stay connected, now more than ever.
Church Action on Poverty and many of our partners have been finding new ways to ensure we sustain community, and even build new relationships that will outlast the coronavirus outbreak.
In the second episode of our new podcast, The Cast to End Poverty, we hear from three people in Sheffield, with particular insights into how the lockdown has impacted people who are most marginalised.
Charlotte works for the Parson Cross Initiative (PXI) in north Sheffield. She has already written two excellent blogs about the consequences of the outbreak in her neighbourhood, and she updates listeners on PXI’s work.
The project has always run groups around music, gardening, cooking, art and food, bringing people together through shared passions.
Charlotte says: “The social aspects of what we did have had to be put on hold, so it’s had a big impact. We’ve still been able to offer emergency food but people are missing the social contact, that’s the thing we’re really picking up on.
“We’ve set up something called keeping close with PXI because we wanted to say to people that we’re still there and that we still wanted to keep contact so people have been sharing their news and their craft projects they’ve been doing.”
On the podcast, Charlotte introduces two local residents: Carlie and Michelle.
You're not on your own
Carlie lives alone with her two children, Isaac, aged six, and Lillie, aged 12, and she is also a co-founder of a support group, Autism Hope. Michelle works in local schools and with families that are on the margins.
Each of them had recorded conversations with Charlotte, which feature on the podcast.
Carlie tells listeners: “We’re coping; just about. There have been some extremely difficult times. Isaac, who has autism and severe learning difficulties struggles the most, so not being able to access school and having his routines taken away has had a huge impact on him. As the weeks have gone it is has got worse.”
She says Lillie has been amazing and weekly calls from school have been useful, but Isaac misses his grandma, his routine, and ordinary visits to the supermarket.
The greatest support has come from the autism support group, which has been keeping in touch online and through phone messages.
Carlie says: “You’re not on your own; other people do understand and are going through the same thing. One of my friends has two children with autism and has lost her own mum but has been sending little gifts to Lillie.”
“I think this has been a glimpse for everyone to see what it is like to feel isolated and to not be able to access things that other people can”.
She says she hopes that as society redesigns itself after this outbreak, families don’t have to get to breaking point before help is available.
Charlotte says: “There are obviously a lot of families who are really struggling with lockdown and they had been marginalised and felt isolated before and I think that’s what Carlie expresses really well.
“I also think what she expresses well is how they were supporting each other before, on facebook, calling one another – that support was happening before and has been going on throughout this and I took from our conversation what a strong group they are.”
You can hear Charlotte and Carlie’s full conversation on the latest episode of our podcast, Cast To End Poverty, available on all podcast platforms now. On the same episode, you can also hear Michelle talking about she and colleagues have responded to the crisis, including by providing laptops to help combat digital exclusion.
Good journalism can be undermined by damaging picture choice
by Gavin Aitchison, media unit coordinator at Church Action on Poverty
You will have seen them, though almost certainly won’t know who they are. Two young boys, kicking a football around in Glasgow.
They’re outside a building that has graffiti on it and there’s a shopping trolley in the foreground. It’s a brief snapshot in time, captured by a photographer on Tuesday, September 30th, 2008. But somehow, a few images of this fleeting moment have taken on a life of their own.
For more than a decade, these photos have been among the most-used stock images for media reports about poverty. Even when articles are nuanced, insightful and constructive, they are often accompanied by these clunking and misleading images. Now, as the impact of the coronavirus outbreak threatens to sweep many more UK families into poverty, they are back again.
On the off chance that you don’t know what pictures we’re talking about, you can see them on the website of Getty Images. Alternatively, conduct a google image search for ‘uk poverty’ and you’ll see them in results like this (the second, third and seventh shots on the top row are all from this shoot and appear countless times in media stories).
There are three principal things wrong with the way these images are used:
- They are very old and now out of date
- What is happening in the photos is hardly ever explained, and is not what you think
- They undermine and hinder attempts to tackle poverty in the UK
These pictures are undoubtedly striking and powerful, but they carry an othering effect that has grown with time. They are laden with visual tropes likely to prompt concern. There’s an abandoned trolley, unaccompanied children, a vandalised building, litter, unkempt paths. The message to viewers is: poverty exists in streets like this. And, therefore, not where you live. These scenes (even before we get to the misleading way the photos are used) display a particularly dramatised manifestastion of poverty, which skews and narrows public understanding of what poverty is.
It’s said that the camera never lies, but when you see these photos in newspaper after newspaper, they do not tell the truth.
Seeking the street
I decided to try to find where these photos were taken, to see whether they reflected reality. Then, when searching online, I found that Paul Climie, a blogger in Glasgow, had already done exactly that.
Thanks to a recognisable fence and petrol station in the background of one photo, he was able to use local knowledge to pinpoint the location. His compelling analysis show how false, dangerous and unhealthy these photos are. With Paul’s permission, I share extracts of his post below.
“…The other thing I know about the type of tenements I recognised in these pictures, is that they too were demolished shortly after the pictures were taken in 2008.
Nobody lived in those boarded up flats. Nobody was there to care for the garden or keep an eye out for vandalism. The images fit a handy stereotype, which I believe is harmful and not particularly accurate or representative….
“These photographs of children playing amidst boarded up and vandalised houses are deceptive, … [they were] taken at a time when they were awaiting demolition and were empty… Yet every few weeks, these derelict tenements awaiting demolition are re-built in the pages and websites of the national media to illustrate ‘childhood poverty’.”
So points 1 and 2: The photos are now nearly 12 years old, and they do not show anyone’s homes, but rather a derelict building awaiting demolition on a site that was then redeveloped.
Getty, it should be said, includes this note on its site, stating that the buildings have since been demolished, but that point never appears when the photo is reused by other media. The unexplained photo remains a dominant but false characterisation of poverty. It misrepresents that neighbourhood, but the damage is much wider.
You might say it’s only an image, that lots of stock images are used by the media, and that people will read beyond headlines and photos. But no. We know pictures have an impact. People think in images and photos trigger ingrained thoughts and ideas that can help or hinder the way we see ourselves, others and our environment.
Here, the photos matter because they make poverty look remote, when we know it isn’t. Between a quarter and a fifth of people in Britain live in poverty. It is in every county, town and city in the country.
As Paul says:
“I would argue that the pictures used repeatedly to present an image of poverty reinforce this idea that the story is not about “people like me”. I don’t live in a house like that. I supervise my kids, clean my close and cut my grass. These images feed a narrative of “them and us”…
That’s the problem I have with these unsupervised children in a neglected building illustrating every single story we read on the topic, this “othering”. They are not like “us”, these poor people. We wouldn’t end up in that situation. It must be the fault of the parents, not society or government.”
Analysis of media coverage of poverty has repeatedly identified the ‘othering’ nature of reports. We aspire to be a society in which we all pull together to improve things, and where we draw on our shared humanity to tackle social injustice. Imagery that creates ‘us and them’ division undermines that. [See, for instance, work by Joseph Rowntree Foundation in 2008, the LSE in 2014, and Lankelly Chase in 2020]
The images above shows the 2008 scene, and the same spot in 2019, as captured by Paul. He writes:
“Here is the reality of that derelict street today. It may still be an area with problems, but I think we need to find a more nuanced way to talk about poverty. The stereotype we get accompanying these news stories is just that. A stereotype.”
What does poverty in the UK look like? It’s a class of primary school children, a quarter of whom will be held back by structures beyond their control and an economy that denies their family an adequate income. It’s a parent forgoing meals because even though they have several jobs, none offers enough hours in the week to cover the bills. It’s someone with long-term disabilities, who is suddenly expected to seek work they cannot manage, or see even more of their support removed by the state. It’s a child who cannot keep up with their friends during the coronavirus lockdown, because they are digitally excluded, unable to access online learning resources. It’s an underpaid worker in London, forced to compromise their safety in these worrying times, when others can choose not to. It’s a young couple who have had to move back in with parents, because the rents in their city have soared far faster than wages. It’s a hidden carer, looking after their elderly parents at the same time as caring for their own kids, so unable to pursue the opportunities that might otherwise open up.
Photos like the Glasgow ones mislead, stigmatise and stereotype, and in doing so they exacerbate ignorance. They reduce people’s ability to understand others’ lives, and therefore hinder attempts to bring people together and develop a shared understanding that can identify and bring about meaningful social change. From a journalistic perspective, these photos also hinder the very purpose of the news media, namely to inform and improve public understanding.
At Church Action on Poverty, we have spent the past five years working to challenge misleading and damaging media coverage of poverty, and we’re working with others now to press for more considered picture selection.
Others are raising similar concerns, such as here in the What’s The Problem? project.
On this particular issue, I’ve decided to act. When I see that photo now, I will email the newspaper editor, point them to Paul’s blog post, and ask them to rethink the way the portray poverty in the UK. It’s a small step, but it might just help us to end the stigmatisation of people in poverty.
If you see these photos, or other stock images that you feel exacerbate false stereotypes of poverty, let us know and you and we can together help work towards better coverage.