Local charity’s Covid response puts it firmly at the Heart of BS13

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Since lockdown Heart of BS13 has been providing free food packages, including healthy nutritious meals and ingredients, to local families in need. After a frenetic few weeks setting up the emergency response at the beginning of lockdown they now have a near seamless operation in place run by staff and volunteers.

The BS13 postcode includes the post-war estates of Hartcliffe and Withywood in South Bristol, home to around 20,000 residents. The area hit the news recently due to the high incidence of childhood obesity. Last year the Government ranked a part of Hartcliffe as the 91st most deprived neighbourhood out of almost 33,000 across the country.

“A young mum with a terminal illness who lives locally was struggling to get the food the family needed during lockdown. We’ve been taking them meals since March and will carry on as long as they’re needed” says Matt Andrew, Operations Manager for the Heart of BS13, the healthy living project based at the Gatehouse Centre in Hartcliffe.

This lady and her children are just one of 211 households to benefit from the emergency food response the organisation mounted in March. Since then they’ve dished up 12,570 delicious, nutritious meals serving 1,212 unique individuals. Volunteers have been busy biking and driving three meals a week to local people.

Their emergency food response received two grants through Quartet Community Foundation’s Coronavirus 2020 Response Fund which awarded over £1m to more than 200 local organisations across the West of England from March to August 2020.

“Initially the elderly got in touch, who were vulnerable and shielding. We’ve got families of eight who’re struggled as the cost of food went up during lockdown, and as school’s shut and Free School Meals ended” explains the charity’s Kirsty Hammond.

A family of volunteers

One family that was quick to respond to the call for volunteers was Katie Riches and her two girls Phenna and Beaux. “I saw the Facebook post asking for drivers, as a family we do volunteering and fundraising for charities. I try to get them to think of other people, and to realise that not everyone gets all that they get” says Katie who lives near Morrisons in Hartcliffe.

With Katie as driver and Beaux as route planner, they’ve been out delivering food packages twice a week since the start of lockdown and continued through the summer holidays. They’ve also been collecting donations of food from local people and businesses. “In lockdown we’d spend 1.5-2 hours to do the deliveries but after lockdown we had the routes planned, and to collect, deliver and bring the boxes back took us about 30 mins.”

14 year old Beaux explains: “I wouldn’t get out the car when I started, but mum encouraged me to do it and now I do it every time. We’ve made some good friends. I knocked on this elderly lady’s door, she hadn’t been out and always says ‘you’re one of the only people I see’. She did get help from her daughter too.

“I’ve got loads more confidence as mum got me to do it on my own. I’ve lived here five years and didn’t know all the streets and the whole area so well but I know it much better now.”

This isn’t Beaux’s first time volunteering. She’s been fundraising for a range of charities each year on her birthday, raising money for homeless, cancer and mental health charities.

“At the Heart of BS13 we want people to try new and healthy foods but if you’re on a low income you can’t afford to experiment as there’s a cost” explains Kirsty Hammond, “but having these meals has opened people’s eyes to different types of food, they say ‘I don’t know what couscous is’ but now they enjoy different foods and know what to do with them.”

They can also offer other help, including telephone support with mental health, online cookery and exercise classes, online veg box orders and food banks referrals.

What next for the community response?

“We’re going to continue the food response through September 2020 and plan in early October to launch a community fridge and larder. If people still need help, we’ll continue delivering with the bikes, if people are vulnerable and can’t get to us” says Kirsty.

“We’re flexible so if we have an emergency we can ramp back up. We’ll respond if there’s a local lockdown or more job losses as furlough ends in October.”

If you’re looking for silver linings you can’t help but find them here. Since March people from Hartcliffe have enjoyed trying lots of different healthy foods; the organisation has coordinated a community response by working with a wide range of local organisations including FIXX bikes, Bristol City Council and Hartcliffe and Withywood Community Partnership; Morrisons have been generous and offered a cage of food a week; and the chefs have found a sense of purpose, as their work dried up in the local hospitality industry.

But importantly Kirsty, Georgina, Matt and the team have organised the kind of collective self-help that acts as the community’s very last line of defence. And that gives them a voice, role and relevance for the future that really puts them at the very heart of their community.