Clapton Commons Foodbank

For the last ten days I’ve found myself eating a lot of toast. I’ve not been thinking so much about disease as about food. When to shop, where to shop, what to get. Whilst I’ve been trying to temper my urge to stockpile sprays and spaghetti (and, strangely, cheese) I was still relieved when the church got its seasonal delivery of 288 loo rolls, now awaiting storage in the back vestry.

At least I can still go shopping for myself. Quite a lot of people can’t or shouldn’t, according to the government’s recent instructions. I’ve also had many more phone calls than usual about our weekly Foodbank. I can hear the level of panic rising in the voices of those making the enquiries.

One woman left a message to see if she could get a voucher. When I rang her back she said, food-wise, she was now sorted. She said she had used almost her entire Universal Credit payment on a trip to Asda for her family. But now she was about to run out of money on her electricity card and was worried that she would lose everything that she had just stacked so carefully in the freezer.

In terms of those who need to self-isolate because of age or infirmity there has been a generous response from neighbours and agencies, some of it on-line, not least through the new Mutual Aid network, which I think started in Hackney.

A couple of these stand out. The chair of a Tenants and Residents Association on a local housing estate has visited every flat, with the help of her committee, to find out which of her neighbours is isolating and which are keyworkers. She’s also given them all £20 from the TRA funds to help them get round a tight corner. For some £20 is the difference between a freezer full of food and pool of water.

The other response is the social enterprise Made in Hackney and the indomitable Sarah Bentley. Made in Hackney will be moving into Liberty Hall when we open sometime later this year, global pandemic permitting. Sarah set it up as a plant based (code for vegan) cookery school seven years ago and they have now consolidated their position as a model community kitchen. She’s even given a TED talk.

Hers has been a story of quick adaption over the last two weeks. When it was clear the virus was about to torpedo her operation, as funders withdrew and her income stream dried up overnight, Made in Hackney turned from being a cookery school to being a community kitchen on wheels. In the last ten days she’s raised nearly £50K to prepare 1200 hot free meals a week for those who are most vulnerable, starting today. You might like to help her get over the line by clicking here.

What’s true about the direction in which the world is going is that citizens are going to need to come up with new ways to help each. And the attachment of people to the places where they live is going to become more important not less so. These are some of the things I’ve been thinking as I eat my toast.