For so many, food is about survival and the number of people, right here in the UK, who even pre-COVID-19 had no food at all, was shocking. The Independent Food Aid Network (IFAN) estimate that in 2019 there were 2,047 food banks and over 3000 frontline food aid providers, such as community kitchens or school holiday meal programmes.
Volunteers were giving a minimum 4 million hours – or over £30 million - per year in unpaid work to fight our hunger crisis. The majority of food bank users are in work. Many were already socially isolated and reporting a disability or mental health issue.
Food as more than survival
GCK doesn’t just recognise this tragedy, but strives to take food beyond a means for survival. Understanding the complexity behind these statistics - that people’s lives are affected by a multitude of factors - GCK exists at this intersection of poverty, hunger, loneliness, mental health, prejudice and isolation.
“We realised we’re in this era of deprivation.” says Dee, matter-of-factly, whilst washing dishes after a Friday community meal last year.
“People are being demoralised and dehumanised - when they go into the Department of Work and Pensions, when they reach a point where they can’t afford food…For us it was very important…to not [require] a voucher or ask people what [their] issues are. There’s this idea of the ‘deserving poor’. For me, we’re all deserving of good food [and] connections to people. That’s what we provide”.
“And not being judged” Leslie adds. “So you don’t have to prove anything, you’re just accepted for who you are. If you want to come here and be part of the community, then great.”
This culture is evident. Hours before the doors officially opened for their weekly evening serving, the place was already vibrant and full of care. Volunteers were receiving deliveries from City Harvest, a social enterprise, which collects high quality food surplus from businesses and distributes it to 300+ food projects - and who’re still distributing food at this time, even as we imagine ‘surplus’ to be a thing of the past.
As people arrived, you immediately saw the comfort that they felt. There was banter with the volunteers, who knew what food to put aside for who. No one took more than they needed. Many politely declined offers. The atmosphere was compassionate and dignified. Fatima, a pensioner who’s lived in the area for over 30 years, told me, “I’d be lost without it and so would others in the community”.
The holistic approach includes a food growing garden; “a third space, to get away from home. Somewhere [people] can feel equal to those around them” according to Nicholas, the Community Gardener. During these times of food scarcity and social distancing, spaces like this are even more crucial.
GCK plan to stay open throughout this crisis, with volunteers distributing food and essentials to vulnerable people as far as Brent, Camden and Westminster, and residents collecting cooked food on site.
They’ve tripled the number of people they support in the last three weeks, as reliance on the unpaid community sector has become even greater, and are having to fundraise for supplies as donations aren’t sufficient.