We have spent the past 14 years supporting our communities through the provision of free and affordable housing for families/individuals moving out of temporary accommodation into social housing. Using quality second-hand furniture (preventing 170 tonnes of landfill each year) and 120 volunteers, our purpose was to prevent homelessness, debt, alleviate poverty, and reduce eviction, whilst enabling people to live in dignity and make the transition from homelessness and temporary accommodation to tenancy. From our two sites (B60 & B45) we also operated a small food bank and a fantastic I.T. recycling project, proving affordable laptops/PCs and community I.T. help-desk. Over those years we have helped over 90,000 individuals through the various parts of the project and developed a successful social enterprise.
When the COVID19 crisis struck, not only did we experience a 1000% increase in demand for emergency food parcels, we also had to close our furniture showrooms due to 'lockdown' and in so doing we lost 70% of our annual income.
Making a tough decision we decided not to furlough our team, and instead, to stand alongside our communities as they faced the most challenging and strange times they had ever encountered. We faced our own questions around how we were going to supply enough food and indeed suitable food! how would we be able to pay all our bills? How long would it be before we ran out of money?
Our first challenge was around the quantity and content of our food parcels. Traditionally they had been tinned and dried foods for three days - this was obviously not going to be enough and so we expanded our parcels to include fresh meat, eggs, butter, milk, cheese, fruit and vegetables and instead of three days they now covered seven days.
Although it was difficult we have come through and now our furniture work is restarting alongside our food outreach, we have learned some crucial lessons from our community. 1) Food is a wonderful icebreaker and foundation for relationship- we have met some great families and individuals.
2) Many people are embarrassed to be 'in need' so won't easily tell someone,
3) Lots of us, just about manage day-to-day, week-to-week and when something unexpected happens it can and does cause a huge challenge in our life.
With all that in mind we want to help our communities be better prepared for what life has to throw at them. We know that the impact of COVID on local debt is real and considerable and so we want to employ a community outreach worker, who can facilitate local community meals, bringing people together regularly to get to know each other, to create a safe space where problems can be shared and resolved. The meals will be funded by us and open to anyone and everyone in the community - no one is excluded.
We're not really sure how the meals will start out, obviously physically meeting up is hard at the moment, but we are thinking about some online events and maybe some picnics. As social distancing eases we hope to be able to have some meals in local halls.
We are also setting up a new project providing budgeting and debt management advice (many of know we used to do this). We will be working with Community Money Advice to provide this service and again this will be open to anyone and everyone in the community.
We intend to be the facilitator to these projects, helping local communities work out how and where they want to hold their meals; deciding what groups they want to have running in their community and where they want them to run.
Being the community they want to be.