As the numbers of local families in need of support double due to the coronavirus crisis, with thousands facing a “bleak winter”, MP for Erdington, Jack Dromey, visits the longstanding food distribution service at Six Ways Baptist Church.
Words & pics by Ed King – some images taken from Erdington Local archives
Erdington Foodbank has been feeding double the numbers of local families this year – due to the effects of the coronavirus crisis, including continued lockdowns and spiralling unemployment.
Operating two days a week, at 6 Ways and George Road Baptist churches, the long standing local food bank has seen ‘a significant increase’ – including twice the number of children, as compared to last year.
“This year, so far… this financial year, we’ve provided food for 10,000 people and more than 3,000 of are children,” explains Reverend Gerrard Goshawk – minster at Six Ways Baptist Church, “that’s been a significant increase, doubling the number of children. Overall, we’re looking at being twice as busy as we were the last financial year.
“We have new people coming all the time, where there circumstances have suddenly changed, and we have people who are coming to us week in week out because they’re stuck in a situation that’s hard for them.
“So, we open twice a week – and within a short space of time, when we open, we get very, very busy. As you can see there’s a big queue here today.”
Launched in 2013, supported by the Trussell Trust, Erdington Foodbank has been operating within the community for nearly a decade – offering free to access ‘three day emergency food supplies’ via a referral system.
Last year the local food bank distributed nearly 4,000 care packages, feeding people of all faiths. But with mass unemployment due to COVID-19 lockdowns the numbers of those in need have increased dramatically this year.
Stretching from the church hall doors out onto Wood End Road, long lines of people have become a regular sight at Six Ways Baptist Church – sometimes waiting hours in bitter weather to receive bags of food and essentials. And the same can be seen at food banks across the city.
“As we sink into what will be a bleak winter,” tells MP for Erdington Jack Dromey – whilst visiting the Six Ways centre, “for thousands of people locally in Erdington the demand for food banks is growing and growing.
“We’re here today (Six Ways Baptist Church) talking to guys who were at work, who have lost their jobs, and who are now desperate – and they turn to the food bank This is a long standing food bank… but what they’re seeing is a sharp increase in families using it. The number of those using this particular food bank have doubled.”
“It’s down to the Government,” tells Kenneth Ball – a qualified mechanic who now relies on extra support from Erdington Foodbank.
“The way they’ve cut back benefits… bang. From ESA to Universal Credit, they’ve taken half of our money away – so, we have to rely on places like this (Erdington Foodbank).”
“Universal Credit are monthly payments, but most people have deductions,” mirrors Michael Blake – a professional baker who lost his job due to the coronavirus crisis. “The money they’ve got left over can only support them for one or two weeks, but what about the other two weeks?
“In this environment, the Government should cancel the deductions – I’m not saying they’re not doing a good job, but they should wait until everything’s settled down then put the deductions back into force. We know we owe the money… but give us a break.”
Echoing the call for compassion, Jack Dromey reiterates the growing number of local voices who have been left vulnerable – with thousands across the constituency seeking a range of support as the country begins a second lockdown.
“In terms of the effects on people personally, and I say this with immense sadness, the scars that are being inflicted – unless we’re careful – will last for years,” continues Dromey.
“The scars mental ill health, the scars of children not being able to go to school for months on end, the scars sometimes endured by women in this constituency as victims of domestic violence.
“We need to act, to save lives and to save livelihoods, but then to have a strong community supporting the community. That’s why we have the Erdington Taskforce, of which I was proud to be part of establishing, which has been doing so well supporting people locally.
“I would urge the people of Erdington to play their part with acts of kindness, good neighbourliness, and supporting one another. But as far as the foodbanks are concerned, they badly need food – the demand is soaring.”
For a list of local support services operating during the coronavirus crisis, visit the COVID-19 Local Support database and address book, www.erdingtonlocal.com/covid-19-local-support