The lockdown announcement on 23 March saw everything we were familiar with change.
Bars, restaurants, gyms, cinemas and many other businesses shut down. Most schools closed and we were told to stop socialising with our friends and families and stay at home, to reduce the spread of coronavirus.
Many people lost their regular source of income - which in turn affected their access to food and essential items. Access to food also became an issue for some of the most vulnerable in our communities, including our elderly and clinically vulnerable residents - with most unable to leave their homes to protect themselves from becoming ill.
Since coronavirus first hit our shores, food insecurity has become one of the biggest worries across the country. In Haringey, 34% of the borough’s 260,000 plus residents currently live below the poverty line and we know this figure is rising. In 2018/19, the Trussell Trust distributed 5,069 emergency food parcels to Haringey residents – 15% more than the previous year.
With the pandemic increasing food poverty even further, we knew that we had to act quickly. We formed Haringey Together to make sure the most vulnerable people in the borough did not have to go through the outbreak alone. It is built around Haringey’s Connected Communities Team who support the most vulnerable residents in our borough.
On 24 March we were notified of a ‘shielded group’ of around 6,000 residents who were clinically vulnerable to COVID-19 and may need food urgently. But we knew this wasn’t the complete picture of residents in need, so we reached out proactively to residents that we already knew and also asked residents to call Connected Communities if they needed help.
We also called for volunteers to help us to deliver food in the community – 500 council staff and members of the community came forward in the first week. Many of these volunteers got straight on our Connected Communities phoneline, which went from 6 to 60 staff in a matter of days.
Edible London – a small Community Interest Company growing fresh produce and distributing to the local community from a horticultural nursery in the borough – agreed to help source and pack food.
The London Food Alliance agreed to drop donated and surplus food to us. A day later we met with Tottenham Hotspur and Alexandra Palace who both agreed to host us. Within a week we had set up our operation.
On 30 March we received our first supply of food into both hubs, which was unpacked, cleansed, repacked and delivered to 150 households in Haringey.
Over a month later, working with our partners and volunteers, we have delivered almost 5,000 emergency packages of food to almost 2,000 different households in Haringey.
I’ve learnt that food insecurity is a factor but not the whole picture, we really need to find a way to sustain the level of need in the community.
A large majority of the (now) 250 daily calls our Connected Communities Team receive are from people asking for food. We are having new conversations and building new relationships with our community and now we know so much more about the needs of the some of the most vulnerable residents in the borough, and on a larger scale than we’d seen before.
Through these conversations we focus on how people can be supported to get back on their feet, providing help and support and advice on accessing benefits or government grant schemes, but we need to work out how best to sustain this in a way that tackles the wider determinants of food insecurity
The Haringey Together Food Hub has been, without doubt, one of the most extraordinary things I have ever worked on. It has been a humanitarian effort of epic proportions. It is local government at its best.
Colleagues in children’s services have said that families have ‘come back from the brink’. Residents have told us that they do not know what they would have done without the packages delivered to them. Food is the foundation of our lives. We must all take the time to reflect on what we have learnt from this experience and move forward together.
Sanjay Mackintosh is Director of Roretti, and is currently supporting Haringey LBC with community engagement