Sadly, some of the challenges our community faced 100 years ago still exist today, and the pandemic’s made them worse.
At BDCA, we’re doing everything we can to help them get back on their feet at our Newham foodbank. Could you help us?
A little history
It was the rolling marshes of the River Roding that originally gave their name to the area of Bonny Downs in East Ham. However, by the 1890s it was far from ‘bonny’ and well known as a deprived and dangerous place. When a man called Charles Howe visited, he was outraged to find 60 children running around with no shoes in the area that’s now Flanders Playing Field. Hearing heartbreaking stories of hungry families struggling to raise their children in dire poverty and struck by their strong community spirit, he resolved to change things.
He started by sourcing clothes for the barefoot children, before going on to teach their illiterate parents to read and write and organising free holidays for families in the countryside. In 1908, he founded a church mission which later became Bonny Downs Baptist Church. The members of that church later helped found the charity we are today.
Sadly, the pandemic has shown that some of challenges of 100 years ago still exist today. In fact, it’s made them even worse and every week we’re meeting hungry families with inadequate clothing. However, the pandemic has also brought out the same fantastic community spirit that’s always been here in Newham. At BDCA, we’re more committed than ever to changing lives and transforming our community and that’s why we’ve launched our Barefoot and Hungry campaign to help families with their recovery.
In the eight years we’ve been running our food bank, we’ve never seen such demand for food. We’ve gone from feeding 40 to more than 200 people a week since the pandemic started. More than a third are usually children – in fact, we recently fed a record number of 117 children on one day during February half-term. We’re giving out a tonne or more of food every Wednesday. And it’s become increasingly difficult to afford the toiletries such as shower gel, toilet roll and washing powder that keep our guests feeling clean and good about themselves.
We also know food poverty is only part of a complex picture, so we’re committed to helping people tackle the challenges which bring them to our food bank in the first place. We recently launched Family FuelBank, a new service offering our food bank families a follow-up appointment, a listening ear and a safe space to talk about their struggles and hopes and dreams for the future. We provide advice on areas such as budgeting, immigration, form filling and assess their needs and approve additional support. Typically, this might include top-ups for fuel and utilities for families living in cold houses with no money for heating, and shopping vouchers to allow them to buy clothing and other household items.
Tracey’s story: “This is a lifeline for my family”
Tracey was distressed and hungry when she recently visited our Wednesday food bank. She had lost her job due to the pandemic and she hated asking for help. But her cupboards were completely bare and it would be at least another two weeks before she received her first universal credit payment to allow her to feed her family. Our friendly team gave her a friendly ear, an emergency food parcel and a hot lunch to take home for her family. Tracey told us: “Thank you so much for listening and helping us. This is a lifeline for my family!”
Can you help our neighbours get back on their feet?
Our food bank guests come from all walks of life. Some have lost jobs and income due to the pandemic, or are struggling due to debt or a long wait for their first benefits payment. Some are overseas families from places such as South Asia, with no access to social security or pandemic support schemes. Often, this is despite the fact they are here legally and had been working hard and paying their taxes before the pandemic struck.
Marcia’s story: “You are helping me so much and showing me such kindness in a very terrible time”
Marcia is a parent whose story we were deeply disturbed to hear. Her family is from overseas and struggling with a £10,000 maternity debt because she wasn’t eligible for free NHS treatment when her baby was born here last year. Finding money for rent is not easy because they are unable to access benefits or find work during the pandemic. The family of five are living in one room in an overcrowded house, sharing one double bed.
As well as booking an appointment with our immigration advisor through our partnership with RAMP, one of our team drove to Sainsbury’s to buy new duvets and coats for the family, so they could sleep more comfortably and stay warm. We’re continuing to journey with this family and seeking out specialist support as they manage their debt.
We’re so thankful for the huge outpouring of goodwill from our community over the past year. But we’re currently experiencing record demand for support and we expect it to be summer before things get significantly better.
Running our food and fuelbanks currently costs us at least £2,500 a week and we have a funding shortfall. That’s why we need to ask for your help. We invite you to support our neighbours in need by:
– Making a one-off or monthly gift of any amount online on our Localgiving page here.
– To make things easy, you can now also make a one-off or monthly gift of up to £20 straight from your phone – please see below how to do this.
– Joining our outdoors Barefoot Challenge this spring and fundraising with us – watch this space, more info to follow!
Every contribution makes a vital difference. Your donation – no gift is too small. Your social media shares. Your family, friends and workplaces fundraising for us. We’ve seen through this pandemic that when we pull together, it’s amazing what can happen. Your support could be a lifeline for a struggling family right now.
Luna’s story: “Oh, I am so happy!! I can sleep now!“
Luna is a mum of three who visited our Family FuelBank recently in tears with £250 of fuel bills that she couldn’t pay because she and her husband lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic. Our Children and Families team, along with the help of our amazing volunteer interpreter Sam, provided a friendly listening ear, and a space to share her fears and difficulties.
To help her with her immediate challenge, we made a payment of £100 to meet her gas bill and supported her with an application form to a local partner charity, who were offering grants for struggling families. Luna was successful in receiving the grant, which meant she could cover the remaining amount of her fuel bill and have a little left over to buy household essentials they did not have. When Stacey called Luna to let her know her application had been accepted, she said ‘Oh, I am so happy!! I can sleep now! Thank you so much for helping me.”
We’re so grateful for your support. We also know that times are tough for many people, so please only give what you can afford. And if you are not in a position to give, we completely understand – you can always help by sharing our campaign instead, or getting involved in our Barefoot Challenge later this spring!
Bonny Downs Community Association launched its foodbank in 2013, serving East Ham and the surrounding areas of Newham, which has the highest number of children living in poverty of any London borough and the highest rate of homelessness in the country. You can read more about our foodbank, our poverty response work and our other projects on this website.
The funds we receive will be used to meet the costs of running our regular weekly Food Bank and new Family FuelBank. This includes the purchase of food, toiletries and other essentials as well as fuel and utility top-ups and shopping vouchers for clothes, bedding and other urgent household items.
In the unlikely event that we raise more money than we need, we will allocate any excess to our other services helping the community recover from the pandemic.
Our people stories are inspired by real examples from our work however names, photos and personal details may be changed and blended to protect privacy.