Food For All – The End of an Era: Sharon

The lead up to the pandemic was an odd one for me. I had been recovering from an accident where I had sustained a nasty head injury and the weeks leading up to lockdown were all very vague. I had not been well enough to pay much attention to how serious Covid-19 was becoming. I returned to work on the Thursday before lockdown to attend an emergency meeting. It felt like the opening scenes from an apocalypse movie!

Food For All (FFA) went from a thriving food-focused group of services to nothing almost instantly. Good Mood Food (GMF) customers began optimistically pushing back bookings for weeks, then months until it became apparent that we were not going to trade again, a realisation that was very devastating for us all. We had all worked so hard over the years, building a business that sat at the centre of all that we did and was our identity as a service.

Instantly, and with much resilience, we re-focused as a team at the catering unit and began to look for opportunities to help. In the beginning, we worked with various charities to make lunches for children who would have received school meals. Then, as the need for food support for shielding and vulnerable people increased, we joined the Manchester Food Hub and worked with local organisations cooking and providing ready-to-heat meals and food aid. At some points, we were making several thousand meals per week.

Looking back at this time is hard to re-imagine. It feels unreal now. We were in full PPE in the kitchen, following an hourly cleaning schedule, and we had no information about Covid-19 and how easily transmittable it was.

Tara pulled together an incredible team of volunteers to help with the meals at the unit. They all worked so hard and made all that we did possible. They were an inspiring and committed group of people who gave their time so freely despite all that was happening.

There was something extraordinary about being part of a group of people working together in such unique circumstances to support the food and mental health needs of our community. More than this, though, was the support that everyone gave to each other. Given that the GMF had lost all trading income and we faced our own job insecurity, the team’s focus was always on helping others and getting food and a kind word to the people who needed it. It makes me very proud to be part of FFA and to know such kind and generous people.

Another casualty of the pandemic was the café at the Zion. We had believed that as soon as the pandemic ended, we would be able to re-open and begin working with volunteers again and get back to running Pay What You Can sessions. However, as lockdowns were extended and restrictions continued to be in place, we had to make a difficult decision and let go of the café. With no income from GMF, we could not continue to pay for a space we did not know when we would be able to use again. This hit me harder than GMF. I think because this is where I began my career with Manchester Mind, 20 years ago, and where we all worked with so many lovely people. It felt like the end of an era and, sadly, a further move away from what FFA had been before the pandemic.

The allotment was the only space that we could offer supported volunteering to anyone throughout the pandemic. As a result, it has flourished into a beautiful space thanks to all the hard work of the team and a group of dedicated volunteers. In addition, the allotment has been the source of lots of tasty produce that has contributed to all the meals and food boxes we have delivered.

We have used this time working with partners and listening to feedback from the people we have been supplying food to, to find out what they need to begin putting their lives back together and started a major re-design of our service. Our emergency food provision, recipe boxes, movable feasts, and green social prescribing will all come with trauma-informed activities and interventions and support from our skilled team.

“Especially towards the middle and end of lockdown I started to become very low, I didn’t have reason to get out of bed or do anything so having the opportunity to go and help cook and prepare food with a lovely team really boosted my mood, and gave me energy for the rest of the day.” Food For All Volunteer

“I don’t know how to express my gratitude. For your mental health support and help with the nice meals too. But the most of the all that I do not feel lonely. I had more visitors in this week than in last 3 months.” Food recipient

Sharon Kelly, Food For All Service Manager

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