Soup & socks!

A new homeless project in Brighton & Hove, “Soup & socks” will be tackling food poverty and serving the homeless of the city four nights a week throughout winter. The Archbishop will be joining volunteers to cook and serve hot food and drinks and give away donated items of winter wear, particularly socks as those sleeping rough in the damp winter weather are prone to contracting Trench foot and associated complications due to general poor health and nutrition.

“Soup & socks” has been made possible through networking by trustees and volunteers of Brighton & Hove Faith in Action of which the Archbishop is chair; is being hosted at The Friend’s Meeting House (The Quakers) in the centre of the city and coordinated by The Ethicurean Guild a professional kitchen franchise that took on voluntary cooking during the lockdown for emergency homeless accommodation. The Ethicurean Guild has taken up the mantle of Cherubs Kitchen which the Archbishop founded six years ago, and is training and employing homeless apprentices. The project will be plugging a gap in winter food provision for those sleeping rough which has been severely affected by lockdown restrictions.

Since the lockdowns, support services for the homeless have been seriously affected such that many of the usual providers are no longer able to operate as the restrictions and limitations required by Government prevent them from operating. For example, The Hub homeless drop in which the Archbishop co-founded twelve years ago with ecumenical partners the Salvation Army, hasn’t been able to operate at all since the first lockdown in March of 2020. This has been due in part to the restrictions on communal gatherings and spaces, the shielding age of the volunteers and the limitations of the project and venue itself to be utilised in a safe and sanitised way consistent with the regulations.

The Hub is not the only homeless project to be affected, the SVP (Society of St Vincent de Paul) daily soup run hasn’t been able to operate at all, neither has the local Muslim charity Deen Relief been able to operate its homeless support effort. In fact only three of the city’s previously half-dozen homeless food projects serving food directly to people sleeping rough have been able to run since March. However, other projects have provided food to those of the street community who qualified and accepted emergency accommodation during the lockdowns and these continue still to support those fortunate to retain such accommodation following the ease on restrictions.

As chair of the city’s Faith Council, the Archbishop hosted weekly Zoom meetings between Faith groups, the Police, the City Council and other health and civic statutory agencies including Public Health England to disseminate accurate information, messages, coordinate and partner efforts tackling food poverty, isolation and loneliness, support and signpost befriending schemes and interpret the Government’s various guidance for religious venues and public worship restrictions. Supporting the hospital chaplaincy team covering three sites, arranging authorised letters for clergy and volunteers to undertake relief activities and provide signposting and support for those addressing pastoral situations ranging from dealing with isolated congregation members through to domestic abuse and suicidal ideation. These meetings fed into other coordinated efforts across the city like the Emergency Food Network where Faith groups were offering food, to cook food, deliver food and provide befriending services to the lonely and vulnerable.

Food poverty in Brighton and Hove was an issue even prior to COVID, 21 emergency food providers were giving out on average 420 food parcels per week = 21,000 per year across the city. In a citywide survey (2018 Brighton & Hove City Tracker Survey) 1 in 5 people said they did not have enough money to meet their basic living costs, including food. Throughout the lockdowns these figures and the reliance upon providers has grown exponentially and the voluntary sector’s Emergency Food Network (EFN) went from 21 member organisations to 50, plus 10 meal providers. EFN meetings in the months following March 2020 took place online fortnightly, providing a vital source of up-to-date information and support, coordinating distribution efforts by charities and statutory agencies. Faith venues were among the main providers of both community hub venues and food production centres from which volunteers delivered food across the city.

The Brighton & Hove Food Partnership set up a central food processing hub where wholesale purchased food and surplus food was organised and distributed by a team of volunteers to food banks and meal projects. Food purchased included locally-sourced fruit, veg and milk bought direct from producers via a newly established social enterprise, the Food Factory. This central hub supported a citywide network of 50 neighbourhood food hubs made up of existing food banks and shared-meal settings, plus new temporary food hubs based out of a range of community venues. Most operated as a home delivery service with local volunteers taking food from the hubs the ‘last mile’ to people’s doors. These included specialist BAME, homeless support and older people’s projects, and a specialist provision for families with children under five provided by BHCC’s children’s centre service. The value of this ‘hyper-local’ support was that the volunteers delivering the food were local people trusted by those receiving the food and other support such as befriending a and collection of medicines could be arranged.

All these services are still needed post-lockdown as many more people have become impoverished through loss of income, occupation or even homes and the number of people living on the street has risen rather than fallen as a direct result of the effect on the economy. The Archbishop will continue to chair Faith Council meetings fortnightly going forward to keep the momentum, coordination and dissemination of information to Faith groups. He attends the Council’s weekly Citywide Leaders COVID Meeting chaired by the Leader of the Council and attended by community leaders, the city’s three MP’s, and statutory and voluntary sector partners to receive the Director of Public Health’s updates and to share news and information on the ongoing impact and response to the situation.

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