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The blog series looks at how individual local Community Hubs are servicing the 33 wards of Leeds to ensure that the most vulnerable people in the city have access to support during the COVID-19 pandemic. Read more to follow Link Worker, Claire Graham, on one of her visits to Community Hub - Slung Low.
After a long hot spring, the rain finally came to Leeds. I noticed how the shorts and t-shirts previously donned by volunteers all over our city have now quickly changed to jeans and jumpers, but spirits remained high at The Holbeck - a base for the Community Theatre company Slung Low, one of the 27 community hubs across Leeds that have quickly organised themselves to provide for local people during the pandemic.
I interrupt Slung Low’s Artistic Director Alan Lane’s morning briefing.
“We have just had six more referrals in for food parcels. Emma and Anil, can you make them up?”
Alan is distracted by a song playing on the radio and briefly serenades the team before continuing with the plans for the day. Emma, furloughed from Opera North, busies herself making up parcels. As we chat, we both agree that it’s a bit of an understatement to call them parcels, “more like a hamper,” I said.
Residents receive a box containing eggs, milk, bread, fresh produce, tins and toiletries. But Emma didn’t stop there, adding activity packs, a copy of South Leeds Life and a children’s book for families.
I went to meet Community Care Volunteer Jo. We had spoken before and she kindly asked me to spend the morning with her on a mission to Mecca Bingo, where we were to pick up hot meals prepared for families in Holbeck and Beeston. As the heavens suddenly opened, we both scrambled in our car boots to find umbrellas, and we set off together into town to meet the Mecca team.
Jo explained that Mecca prepare 66 hot meals four days a week for families in those two wards; Slung Low’s role is to collect and deliver them. We were greeted by Sam and Kim and after packing the food in bags, we had time for a quick chat and photo.
Sam is General Manager of the Mecca Bingo in Hunslet and told me that they closed their doors as soon as lockdown hit on Friday, 22 March. She explained, although currently furloughed, a group of staff volunteered to come in from Tuesday to Saturday and serve up hot meals, not only to families but for NHS staff and other key workers too.
“We started out just serving key workers in town, but the scheme quickly grew as we contacted lots of local charities to see if we could help them out.”
Mecca is working with St Georges Crypt, Holbeck Elderly Aid/Holbeck Together, Kirkstall Valley, Rainbow Junction and New Wortley Community Centre amongst others.
The New York Street Mecca coordinated a response with other local branches to pool together all their food stocks that would have otherwise gone out of date.
“It has been a really good experience,” said Sam. “It has really made us realise we want to do more work with charities in the future.”
As the sun threatened to peek through the clouds, Kim and Sam headed back in to prepare the next set of meals and we went back to The Holbeck, where the team of Community Care Volunteers were awaiting our arrival to distribute the food.
I tagged along with Jo and we set out to visit some Holbeck folk, criss-crossing the rows of back-to-back terraces and - at our last drop off – we arrived at Rachel’s, greeted by two beaming faces; her young daughters Kyla-Leigh and Bobbie-Leigh. Upon hearing I was there to take their photo, Bobbie-Leigh briefly disappeared and proudly brought a photo of her with her majorettes group. “Yes,” she said, “I do miss my friends a lot.”
“But the community has really pulled together around here” said mum Rachel. “We have a street Whatsapp group and people are really supporting each other.” The sun came out again at last, so we chatted a bit more in her front garden and its chalked rainbow fence. Rachel told me about socially- distanced birthday parties up the street with everyone in their front gardens; actions her community have taken to keeps spirits up.
“I really didn’t think I would be eligible for this scheme, because both my husband and I work, but getting hot meals four days a week really does make a difference.” She heard about the scheme because she is a member of Holbeck Together, who asked her if she would like to take part. Lockdown has been tough for the family, Rachel explains that she is usually such an active person, volunteering at her daughters’ majorette group ‘Reetwirlers’ in Beeston, and helping to organise community galas and other events.
“I’m a 90s baby,” said Rachel . We used to play out so much more when I was a kid, but my children have always been busy, so yeah it’s been difficult, but we are coping”.
When asked if she has a message for the volunteers at Slung Low, Rachel said “Thank you to Alan and everyone at Slung Low! You’ve been a great help over this period, and when this is all over I can’t wait to meet up with my sisters and wider family again at The Holbeck.”
Their lunch was getting cold, so we said our goodbyes and headed back to base.
In our final drive back to The Holbeck, Jo told me about a woman who she delivers three food parcels to because she cooks for three other people on the street. Heart warming stories of neighbourliness are intertwined with experiences of shocking poverty and loneliness; delivering food parcels to people who don’t have any cooking appliances or chatting to people when you know they haven’t spoken to anyone else all day .
Hailstones battered my windscreen as I drove home at the end of a day of real contrasts. I now have the chance to reflect on all that I have experienced, as a Link Worker, over the last week or so.
The Link Workers at Voluntary Action Leeds make socially distanced visits to the Community Hubs we have been closely working with, so look out for more interviews with volunteers and hubs in the coming weeks.
By Claire Graham
Project Worker at Voluntary Action Leeds