My name is Nighat Bhola. I am from a social enterprise called Humdum UK CIC, which is also a halal and vegetarian food bank in Barking.
My initial reaction when the lockdown was imposed was becoming more concerned about how to do the service – the management of our food bank overtook thinking of my personal wellbeing. My focus changed to others and the homeless during this time. What would they do if the centre was closed?
In Barking, the community has reacted to the crisis really well. The organisations and food banks have come together and are helping each other and I have been involved with that. I am really happy to help neighbours and also clap for the NHS but it’s not just about that. It has brought people closer together. The doors of communication have been opened. The cohesion and collaboration and togetherness between groups have improved even over the phone and video calls.
In terms of coping with the social distancing measures and how has it affected my work and life, actually it’s affected the operational side and we have had to think about how we keep safe. We have had to work with the service users properly and not put each other at risk. We have had to adapt.
The food bank does not have extra stock, so for us the most difficult bit is that we can’t go out and buy everything with the price hikes and also the lack of stock and availability.
We have seen a 250% turnout for our services and that’s been overwhelming for us. People are in need and have come from miles away because our service is unique. We are different because it’s always fresh and we provide home cooked food.
People hear about us through social media and word of mouth, they know that all are welcome. We also deliver to families and to certain communities as sometimes they feel too ashamed to be seen as needy or to ask for help. It can be a social stigma for many.
We have linked up with other London boroughs including Brentwood and Hackney. We have brought the communities and other voluntary organisations together and we have also got to know each other more.
I don’t know about the future but hopefully we will keep running because people are starting to break down. They don’t know where the next penny is coming from. This Ramadan has been very different to any other because of the lockdown. We have provided Iftar everyday and as we are approaching Eid people are getting anxious that they might not be receiving the same support. Hence we are looking at ways we can keep on providing food packs.
At home I have to be extra careful as I have to take care of my mother. It has definitely had an impact because we are so close to each other and then have to distance suddenly.
My hopes for the future, for myself, my family and my community are to have a safer environment and to get back to some sort of normality but to have learned something out of this lockdown.