You may recognize Hilary Brown and Steve Khaireh from The Gratitude Edition. They are community activists, who came together during the first lockdown, to combine their forces and provide a service to support the most vulnerable in our communities.
As soon as the first lockdown news hit, Hilary Brown and Steve Khaireh knew instinctively the communities that would be affected the most. Through their experiences in helping the most vulnerable in our society, they joined forces to create the BAME Covid-19 Food Box Response Project. It was through this combined approach that they were able to offer food and clothing relief to families that needed it the most.
Since then, we caught up with them to see how their project continues to help during the third lockdown and what challenges they face whilst helping the community during these uncertain times.
From a logistical standpoint, have you seen that there is a bigger need for support in this third lockdown?
Hilary: We’ve seen a lot of differences actually, the first lockdown saw a lot of community spirit, lots of organisations recognising that they needed to do something to support the community through these perilous times and nobody knew how lockdown was going to pan out. We saw lots of enthusiasm for a few months, but after that was saw fatigue. People had initially come forward to help the community and donate some of their resources, but after a couple of months, those resources were depleted.
Steve: When we began in March, we believed this project would be a relief project and not still around now, but this pandemic has been so unprecedented. One of our bigger challenges was the uncertainty of the length of Covid-19, as we originally believed it would end in March; but it has just continued, so we’ve had to revaluate and plan whilst moving forward. We were also faced with new situations that heightened issues, such as the new strain of Covid-19 and an introduction to new lockdown measures. This has created a lot of fear and uncertainty within the community and people now feel stressed and anxious over the direction of their lives.
Another issue we’re facing is that in the beginning of the pandemic we were getting huge donations from supermarkets and then all of a sudden, in August, they stopped as if the pandemic didn’t exist anymore. For us, we found that there was a bigger increase in people, but we had a massive reduction in donations. We luckily sill receive donations from Aldi & Lidl, but that is only fresh produce.
How have you kept the morale up?
Hilary: We’ve had to organise and reorganise and revisit our logistics, so now we have decided to run our pantries fortnightly because we just don’t have the resources to do it weekly. So, we are still here, we’re still in the struggle, we’re still part of the foundation of this community that tries to do our bit. But what we can actually do in reality is reducing as the third lockdown runs on.
What is now your greatest need? Is there a greater need for clothing or appliances other than food?
Hilary: If you look at the three basic human needs in life, they are food, clothing and shelter and we have seen the desperate need for food; we’ve seen food poverty like we really didn’t realise. We’ve seen the need for clothes and people are so desperate, they are asking for coats, but they were asking for coats in the summer because it’s an essential item of clothing. So, what we’re certainly not seeing is people wanting to change their clothes with the seasons, they are so desperate that they are looking for essential clothing.
Have you implemented anything different within the centre or offer any other services?
Hilary: In terms of the project, there’s nothing additional we offer because we started from the very beginning, listening to people and letting them guide us as to what they needed, which was all essential items. If you think of somebody setting up home for the first time, they need is pots and pans, curtains, bedding and all of those necessities. We saw people who had already established their homes with their families, with their children, and they never had the basic essential items that you would think was absolutely necessary. We saw people with children who didn’t have cookers, we saw people with children who didn’t have pots and pans, we saw people with young children who didn’t have curtains up at their bedroom windows. So, from the beginning we knew how desperate people were for essential items and items that often we throw away. We changed decor and when we changed our decor, we change the colour of our rug, cushions, curtains etc and we realised that some people are not fortunate enough to be able to even think about a colour scheme because they are having to live with bare walls and no curtains.
Steve: One way we’ve adapted in this third pandemic is joining up with other groups like Cardiff 3sector Council, who have been able to give us different things, such as access to other donations and drivers to help with our parcels. We’ve ended up sharing our donations which stretch to people across Cardiff and The Vale; we share our fresh produce donations as we’re unable to get them out to everyone in our area before they expire.
On a personal note, how has this lockdown affected you in the community centre?
Hilary: It’s affected us hugely because once again the doors are closed so that affects our ability to generate income for the centre. We have very serious repairs that need to be done to the centre; we have leaks that we’ve had in the roof, which has caused damage to the walls and of course we have no income that comes in from anywhere other than what we generate to be able to carry out those repairs. We are going to be reaching out to the UK to say this is a very important role that we play in in the community, supporting people who are vulnerable and who have needs, but we have needs as well, so we need people to help us.
Across the board, people are dealing severely with mental health. Would you like to see an active mental health facility in the community centre? Is the something you would like to see implemented down the line?
Hilary: We do already provide spaces for organisations who work with people facing mental health difficulties, but of course, those people have not been able to come here because of the lockdown. We know that there’s a huge increase in people suffering and sometimes suffering on their own with mental health problems an often crisis. It’s just tragic that we can no longer offer them that safe space and that cup of tea and discussion.
Steve: However, with Covid-19, we now give out food parcels to people in our community, young and old, which luckily gives us access to not only help them but to see how they’re doing through these uncertain times.
Have you noticed a knock-on effect with people needing help?
Hilary: Absolutely, but at the end of the day our centre is closed, so the people that would normally speak to us, interact with us and communicate with us can’t access us and seek help because the centre is closed. We know in the community that there’s this breakdown, this crisis, isolation and loneliness.
Steve: I think the government should put a financial scheme into place, as people shouldn’t have to rely on charities for food and clothes to help them out during this pandemic.
How has the lack of accessibility to education impacting those in the project?
Steve: Teaching is a very difficult subject. Asking parents, when some of them don’t have an education themselves, to suddenly be responsible for educating their children makes all kind of issues. It’s a massive problem, as these children would normally be studying 8 hours a day, but with online teaching, parents are lucky to get them to do an hour of work. The government is currently focused on getting children back to school, but to do what? Are they going to expect them to carry on with the curriculum or redo the year of schoolwork that they missed? There’s no clear plan in force, which is going to be disastrous for society.
As the centre is now unfortunately closed, how can the public support by giving clothes, food or furniture?
Hilary: Although the centre is closed to the general public, we still have staff working in the centre. If you want to donate or if you know anybody who is able to donate, you can still ring the centre on 02920 487 658 and arrange for a time that somebody is going to be available here to receive those donations.