The Bank of England has warned that the UK is facing its longest recession since records began; borrowing costs are rising to the highest level in 33 years; the cost of living is rising at the fastest rate in 40 years; unemployment is set to double and many households are facing very difficult choices. It’s difficult to believe this is Britain we’re talking about.
The reasons for recession are obvious
The government blames Covid and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But Britain is the only country in the G7 that has failed to grow back to pre-Covid levels. The main reasons are 10 years of Tory austerity before Covid, with billions of pounds taken out of key services, including the NHS, Education, and Social Security; Kwasi Kwarteng and Liz Truss’s mini-budget; and Brexit.
The government has not apologised for creating the mess that has put so many into debt. With winter setting in, too many people have terrible choices to make about whether to warm their homes or put hot food on the table, and how to pay their rent or mortgage.
Food banks are spreading
It is no wonder that Food Banks have never been busier.
The Trussell Trust announced that demand for their services is outweighing their supplies, and they are calling for greater donations. In 2021-22, they distributed over 2.1 million food parcels. Schools are setting up food banks to help families; nearly half of all hospital trusts already run or plan to operate food banks to help their staff in the hope that they will not leave the service – many in lower pay band jobs have already left as they are unable to live on their salaries.
The Covid effect – a human crisis
Few families were left untouched by the pandemic. Over 200,000 people lost their lives; many who survived are living with long Covid. The devastation of some industries means that millions of jobs were lost. The impact on an already struggling NHS was immense, with 7 million people currently on waiting lists. School closures has affected many children both through education lost and mental health issues. The Good Childhood Report 2022 suggests that 53,000 children from the East could be unhappy with school.
Between March 2020 and July 2021, the Government implemented three national lockdowns, with limited opportunities to leave one’s home and meet up with friends, relatives and professionals of all kinds. Everyone suffered because of these restrictions on activity and contact. Stresses and strains were handled behind closed doors. Marriages were put under strain, vulnerable children were left unprotected and people’s lives put into abeyance. The effect on children’s well-being is worrying, with 1 in 9 children of 10-17 saying they had not coped with the changes caused by Covid. The demand for mental health support in schools needs urgent attention, together with provision of free school meals and general family support.
Coming out of the pandemic
The roll-out of the vaccine to protect people against the virus began on 8 December 2020, but it has taken time for people to feel any kind of normality. A sense of freedom of movement is difficult to regain, especially as there are still a lot of people working from home. Emerging from isolation and recreating a social life is particularly problematic with the cost of living crisis adding to many people’s worries about going out.
The good will of people
The media have reported a number of different initiatives of groups of people coming together to help their neighbours and members of the town or village. Bungay Community Support has set up a warm rooms project providing a warm space for people to meet, with free tea, coffee and biscuits, and games for adults and children. Similar initiatives are arising around the country. Mini food banks or pantries are springing up in people’s homes.
The Burston Community Kitchen
Bev and her partner Steve run the pub in Burston. The Burston Crown is the centre of social activity in the neighbouring villages and during the pandemic, the pub ran a small deli to provide essentials for the villagers. They also made packed lunches for the school kids during the holidays when there was no government support.
From Covid to the cost of living crisis
Bev quickly became aware that there were a lot of people who were struggling in their isolation, even after things had opened up. And the situation was going to quickly get worse with the increasing fuel and food bills adding to already mounting debts. She and Ginny from the chapel across the road, decided to build on the general community spirit in the neighbouring villages. They came up with the idea of a community kitchen to provide a warm, friendly social space with a free meal once a week. It would open at 4.30 every Tuesday afternoon after school closes, so that children could come along with their families. A donation box would be available for those who could contribute. Steve, who runs the kitchen at the pub, would do the cooking. A local bakery in Diss offered bread and rolls left over at the end of the day and other food came from donations after Bev spread the word of their plan.
Initially, 7 people came into the chapel, then, in the second week, 15 came to share a meal or take food and bread home to their families. Volunteers collected those people who had no transport, such as Pat, well-known in the area for his daily cycle trip into Diss on his magnificently decorated three-wheeler. He had fallen over and broken his hip which had left him isolated at home.
A perfect venue
The success and enthusiasm for the weekly event encouraged Bev and Ginny to think bigger. The Burston Strike School offered the museum for future events. The first was held last Tuesday and over 30 people attended. It’s a perfect place as it has a separate kitchen space, which also makes it possible to apply for a grant from the County Council.
The Burston Community Kitchen has plans to support people through the winter by providing a cosy, warm place to meet up, share a meal, and chat to neighbours. On 6 December, they are holding a Bingo evening; they also hope to have film or games evenings, and talks, for example on how to keep energy bills down. Michelle, of the Citizen’s Advice Bureau (CAB) is usually present. She runs the Hardship Projects, funded by the Norfolk County Council via the Norfolk Council Advice Network (NCAN) to refer people to the right place. Michelle says that in January, people will be receiving higher energy bills and that will push many over the limit. She will be able to point them in the right direction for support on issues such as income maximisation, debt/money, mental health and well-being, housing, employment, etc.
For further information, contact The Burston Crown on 01379 741257 or [email protected]