Tackling food insecurity

How the Selby Food Hub is addressing food poverty

The team of volunteers at Selby Food Hub
Credit Luchia Robinson

By Luchia Robinson

The Selby Food Hub is in its eighth month of operation, having first opened in April to tackle food insecurity, in response to Covid-19 in Tottenham.

By mid-August the team of volunteers based at the Selby Centre − coordinated by community organisers, Sally Sturgeon and Moussa Amine Sylla, from the Selby Trust − had given out over 20,000 food (and essential items) parcels, over 800 ready meals and had collaborated with various organisations including the NHS and Haringey Council to reach over 3,000 local people.

Moussa said: “The idea is to take a humanitarian approach to the crisis rather than a bureaucratic procedural approach. We believe that if you come to the Selby Centre and you queue, that means that you need food, and for us, that’s it.

“We want to serve those who do not have access to the system’s support because there are a lot of people living in Tottenham that do not have access to public funds or support systems, especially in the context of Universal Credit. We’ve seen people coming because, between claiming benefits and having their first meeting, they might have had to wait about eight weeks.”

Credit: Luchia Robinson

Selby Food Hub operates twice a week serving families, individuals and patients in great need, referred to them by GPs, social prescribers and schools.

Following the government’s announcement of a second lockdown in October, the Selby Food Hub has seen a recent growth in visitors.

“In an average week, [prior to the second lockdown], we’d be giving away 1200-1500 food parcels, but now we’ve easily started giving 2,000 food parcels, which to us represents 2,000 mouths being fed on a weekly basis,” said Moussa.

To date, the value of the food and essential items donated by the public has amounted to approximately £50,000. These consistent donations have enabled the food hub team to sustain supplies. The harnessing of strong relationships with mutual aid groups across the borough has been pivotal in ensuring food items remain well stocked.

Sally and Moussa are now applying their knowledge and experience towards supporting the Haringey Food Network − a borough-wide initiative funded by Haringey Council, which aims to meet the needs of families experiencing food insecurity.

Moussa said: “The Food Network Coordinator will be working with us collaboratively to develop a network of food provisions all across the borough. This is quite interesting and uplifting in terms of recognising the work we do.

“There is a lot of hidden work and expertise to what we do and the way we do it.”

The Selby Food Hub has welcomed 68 volunteers since it began. “Collaboration is key,” said Moussa.

“Our values and ethos are people led − not coming from top down, but bottom up. We listen to people, and understand their need, vision and aspirations. We try to create a system of support whereby they can develop any of those aspirations. That helps to connect with others, and also spread the word and the idea to other cells and groups.

“I’ve never seen such a solidarity in Haringey.”

Hannah Marshall, started volunteering at the food hub when it first started, she said: “My experience has been really good. Initially in the lockdown it was a really great way of actually doing something and being around people, and I needed it, after spending a huge amount of time on my own.

“It’s amazing to give food to people who need it. It’s hard work, it’s quite physically demanding but there’s a good atmosphere.

“The atmosphere with the public is friendly and relaxed and that’s really important.”

One of the recent challenges the food hub has faced was supplying young people with food throughout the October half term break.

A national call to action from Manchester United and England footballer and campaigner, Marcus Rashford, to guarantee the hardest hit families don’t go hungry, highlighted the work being done on the ground in local communities, and the work still yet to be done at a governmental level.

Sally said: “Our big thing was to make sure the children got fed. During the bank holiday we gave out 600 lunch bags.

“We have the philosophy that a hungry man is an angry man, and it works the same for the youth. We made a determined effort to make sure that the young people that came here all got a lunch pack, because if they were going home and there was nothing, at least they got something here.

“They’re mature enough to know what’s going on, and they are probably as frightened as we all are about what the future holds − but there’s a reassurance in knowing that something in the community is behind them.”

Moussa and Sally predict that there will be more challenges to come, as more people face impending unemployment.

Sally said: “Apart from the 32,000 people that were furloughed in Tottenham, there are loads of people who have no recourse to public funds, who are in the grey economy, working part time, on zero-hour contracts. We knew that all of those people would suffer first, and this goes all the way across the line, as self-employed people, and even people that are working, are finding themselves with more serious problems because they now have to make the decision whether to pay for their gas and electricity or whether they eat.”

Moussa and Sally are working on developing new opportunities, strengthening their community links even further, and ensuring donations keep coming in, in order to establish their people-led operations system as a blueprint for Haringey, and further afield.

Sally said: “The visitors know that we have said, from day one ‘what we get in, we will get to you’. We’re in it for the long haul.”