Out of horror comes help: a group sets up in Hackney to aid the needy through the pandemic

PubOnPark©DA14:© david.altheer@gmail.com Pub On The Park London Fields e8 160814
© david altheer
Suleymaniye Mosque came to the rescue, as did the Pub on the Park, shown at top in happier times

 

 

BEFORE COVID-19, the help group Haggerston Plates did not exist. By June it had 180 volunteers, delivering hundreds of hot meals to vulnerable people around northeast London.

HP started when the Suleymaniye Mosque in Haggerston got the help of Haggerston Mutual Aid Group volunteers. Normally at Ramadan the Kingsland Road mosque would prepare evening meals so followers could come together at sunset to break their daily fast. But places of worship had to close for Covid precautions.

The mosque, keen to support those celebrating Ramadan during lockdown, collaborated with Haggerston Mutual Aid to prepare and deliver hot meals to people in the area.

It could have ended once the month’s fasting was over. Instead, out of the collaboration came Haggerston Plates. The reason, said Caroline Little who, along with Kat Thompson, is a co-founder, is that “some people were in dire straits so we didn’t want to stop the service”. By liaising with local charities Hackney Migrant Centre, Women’s Aid, LandQ and other aid groups, HP could locate people who needed support during lockdown.

CarolineLittle©HerbieRussell
Caroline Little: “People were in dire straits”

Having set up HQ in committee member James Egan’s back garden in Haggerston, HP began delivering 200 meals daily to people living in the local area. Thanks to a organisers, couriers and kitchen staff, packages of hot meals were delivered to vulnerable people in Haggerston, Hackney, Stoke Newington, Hoxton and De Beauvoir. HP later was given the use of the Pub on the Park’s kitchen in London Fields. 

The project soon became more than a food-delivery service. Thompson said: “The social interaction was really important”. Caroline Little agreed, saying: “On top of that, volunteers could report back if they saw anyone who was having a particularly tough time.” 

Whether it meant providing families with TVs and microwaves, teaching people to cut their own hair or just being a friendly face, the Haggerston Plates approach to community care has proved invaluable to the less fortunate in society struggling with lockdown.

In mid-July, the organisation itself was hit by lockdown problems. When The Pub on the Park reopened its doors to lockdown-weary drinkers, Haggerston Plates lost the use of the pub kitchen. The volunteers had hoped to find new premises but this proved difficult. As lockdown was lifted and volunteers returned to full-time work, providing the same rate of meals became increasingly unfeasible.

© Herbie Russell
Kat Thompson: Another lockdown? “We need to stand ready”

So HP is scaling down. Instead of delivering 200 meals a day, it now aims to deliver 20.

Yet HP’s founders are optimistic. Households and street people who still need the service are being referred to Shoreditch Trust and other charities. Thompson explained that by reacting to the pandemic so quickly, Haggerston Plates was able to support vulnerable people while more established charities struggled to match the increased demand. Now that these charities have adapted to the added pressures of Covid, they are able to take on the work done by HP.

Thompson added “If there’s another lockdown, we need to stand ready to support people. We’ve now got the people and infrastructure in place that can be mobilised in the future”. Little also highlighted HP’s readiness to go into action if needed.

Jimi, homeless in Haggerston and declining to give a surname, said lockdown had been particularly difficult for him and others in the area. Asked about the work of Haggerston Plates, he put it candidly: “Without their help, we’d have been in big trouble.” 

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* Backstory: How a Dalstoner beat the virus; Hackney faith community fearsHelping Hackney to stay clean

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