Agenda item

Review: Voluntary Sector Response to Covid-19 Pandemic


Diane Faichney, Yiewsley and West Drayton Foodbank Chair and Manager / Centre Director of Bell Farm Christian Centre and Tunde Balogun, Senior Pastor – Kingsborough Family Church – representing Hillingdon Foodbank were in attendance.


Diane Faichney addressed the Committee outlining the work of the Bell Farm Christian Centre foodbank during the pandemic. Key points highlighted included:


1)    Bell Farm Christian Centre was a Church and registered charity. In the early 1990s they had started working in the local community where there was a lot of deprivation and unemployment. The Centre worked in partnership with the Council, the Police and other agencies to provide employment and training, toy libraries and children’s work. The project had grown from there;


2)    An advice centre called ‘Doorway’ had been set up approximately 20 years previously. This was similar to the Citizens Advice Bureau and provided advice on debt, housing etc;


3)    The UB7 Foodbank had been launched in 2017 in conjunction with other churches in the area serving West Drayton, Yiewsley and Heathrow Villages;


4)    An older person’s dining centre provided weekly hot lunches for 80-100 elderly residents from the local area and organised events and holidays for them;


5)    The Centre also ran parenting groups and holiday clubs;


6)    During the pandemic, the Centre had adapted quickly to serve the local community. The foodbank and advice centre had remained open and were operating in a Covid secure manner. The foodbank operated at the door and telephone advice was offered to those in need of this service;


7)    In terms of children’s work, this had changed significantly during the pandemic as holiday clubs and toddler groups were no longer possible. The Centre had worked closely with Hasbro who had donated hundreds of toys and crafts. The Centre had organised Zoom classes and Zoom Christmas parties for children aged 5-11 and had arranged for packs of crafts to be sent to their homes. A toy library had been in operation when possible;


8)    Throughout the pandemic, food parcels, treat and craft bags had been delivered to the elderly - the Centre had checked with the Council to ensure there was no duplication;


9)    Craft boxes and food hampers had been sent to adults and families in need;


10)The local community had been hugely supportive of the Centre’s efforts. Local businesses, caterers and residents had volunteered to help. A facebook page with hundreds of members had been set up to co-ordinate this activity. Those who had been furloughed had been keen to help with deliveries and befriending and local children had been involved in making cards for the elderly. The Council had also been very supportive – Grant Officers had allowed the Centre to use the funding flexibly as required;


11)A new member of staff had been recruited who had secured £45,000 in funding from London Community Foundation. This had helped to pay for PPE and some of the Centre’s overall costs; 


12)The foodbank continued to be very busy as people were being made redundant;


13)Up to 200 asylum seekers and their families had been visiting the Centre needing food, clothes and support –this had been a challenge but churches across Hillingdon had been helping out;


Tunde Balogun addressed the Committee representing Hillingdon Foodbank. Key points highlighted included:


1)    The Hillingdon Foodbank had been in operation since 2009 and had been the first foodbank in London;


2)    Although well prepared in many respects, it was clear at the outset of the pandemic that the project would need to adapt quickly to enable it to cope with the unprecedented demand; closure was a real possibility at that time as 80-90% of volunteers were over 70 and needed to shield. Fortunately, the response from the community had been fantastic and the foodbank had been able to continue its vital work. Within 2 weeks all premises including the main warehouse in Denham had been made Covid secure;


3)    The Foodbank had initially worked closely with the Council Hub to facilitate food deliveries for those in need. Once Council staff had been obliged to return to their usual duties, the Foodbank had assumed responsibility for operations and had continued with the food delivery programme;


4)    The Centre had been working in conjunction with about 30 churches across the Borough and some 35 schools. The Council had supported the Foodbank to buy food in bulk to supplement donations as demand had increased. In December, the Foodbank had prepared ‘Buckets of Joy’ – hampers for local families;


5)    Drivers had volunteered to deliver food across the Borough and food deliveries were completed within a maximum of 48 hours of an email being received;


6)    The Council’s Grants Department had greatly helped with funding to assist with expenses.


Kevin Byrne addressed the Committee confirming that, at the outbreak of the pandemic, a new Hub had been set up. Members were informed that this in-house system had been set up initially to provide a bespoke shopping service and emergency supplies for those in need. It had been necessary to scale up very quickly and ensure the needs of the most vulnerable were met. Once Council staff had been redeployed back to their normal jobs, an exit plan was needed to set up a more sustainable system. In August 2020, conversations had been held with the two foodbanks and funding and support offered to enable them to purchase additional food supplies and to cover admin expenses. This was an entirely new model as previously the foodbanks had relied exclusively on donations. The Council had also helped Hillingdon Foodbank with purchasing fridges and with transportation costs. A grant application under the Council’s core grant scheme was being considered to support them in the future. The advice centre at Bell Farm was also being supported by the Council through the core grant scheme and the possibility of a small grant for the older people’s dining centre had been agreed.


In terms of the current situation, Committee Members were advised that people with an urgent need who contacted the community Hub were now being referred to the foodbanks. It was confirmed that the numbers of referrals were growing and some of the needs were more complex than previously. However, the partners were very good at working flexibly and adapting their working practices to meet these changing needs.  The future model had yet to be confirmed but there was now some resilience in the system and an understanding of how to ‘gear up’ if faced with another crisis in the future.


In response to Members’ requests for clarification, it was confirmed that, unfortunately, some children had been unable to access the Zoom activities as they did not have the equipment to do so. It was acknowledged that, even if the children could be provided with the equipment free of charge, parents did not always have internet access in the home as this was costly. However, Members heard that, in some cases, families had internet access but were obliged to share equipment which was challenging; in these cases additional equipment would be welcomed.


Members noted that unfortunately there was significant disparity between the north and the south of the Borough in terms of the need. The delivery service was welcomed since some people felt ashamed to visit a foodbank and would travel quite a distance to do so rather than use one in their local area. Members heard that, at Bell Farm, foodbank vouchers were distributed by a variety of people / groups including Civic Centre staff, nurses, health visitors and other agencies such as P3. If people arrived at the foodbank without a voucher, they would not be turned away. If it transpired that there was an ongoing need, food vouchers would be provided for as long as they were needed.  At Hillingdon Foodbank, vouchers were generally limited to three as the aim was to refer clients to other agencies for assistance and support if possible. However, if this was not possible within the timeframe, the system would be by-passed and clients transferred to the emergency food provision scheme.


It was noted that the Gurdwara in Hayes, the Muslim Centre and the Salvation Army had been offering hot meals during the crisis. In response to their enquiries, the Committee heard that foodbanks worked in partnership with a number of different agencies, schools, GPs and religious establishments including the Muslim Centre in Hayes to raise awareness and distribute food vouchers. The foodbanks also offered bulk supplies to soup kitchens around the Borough. It was confirmed that Hillingdon Foodbank’s drivers covered 15-20 miles every day to reach out to those in need. Members heard that Hillingdon Foodbank had served 7672 clients in 2019 whereas, by the end of 2020, the numbers had climbed to 18,222.


In response to their enquiries, the Committee heard that all staff at the Bell Farm foodbank had been trained in mental health first aid as recommended by the Council. It was recognised that, in the future, their business plan would need to be re-examined and more resources would be required. It was a matter of concern that funding to local charities would reduce or disappear completely. It was confirmed that the support of the Council would be needed in some form; this would be clarified at a later stage. Tunde Balogun of Hillingdon Foodbank advised the Committee that a volunteer Life Coach had been recruited to support clients in the future. It was confirmed that the Foodbank had a robust team of volunteers; some of these were professionals with mental health experience who were willing to help those in the community who needed support.


Members suggested that the local community, the Council and charities should work together to help people through the next phase of the pandemic. In response to this, it was confirmed that a small grant had been made available by Central Government to support, through H4All, a package of training for volunteers in the community to help disseminate messaging around Covid, vaccinations etc. This would be rolled out by the end of March 2021. An article in Hillingdon People was proposed outlining the work of the charities and their future needs – it was hoped that this would assist in recruiting more volunteers.

Members were informed that, as part of the grants programme agreed by Cabinet in December 2020, a project funded through H4All had been approved to embark on this type of activity and assist in capacity building. ex


At the request of Councillors, it was agreed that Kevin Byrne would source further data regarding the increase in foodbank usage and would share this information with the Committee. It was also suggested that a representative of Hillingdon MIND be requested to attend a meeting of the Committee to provide further evidence.


The Committee thanked the charities for all their hard work noting that their business operations had improved and they had become more resilient and better able to cope with the challenges presented by the ongoing pandemic.




1)    Kevin Byrne, Head of Health Integration and Voluntary Services source further data regarding the increase in foodbank usage to share with the Committee; and

2)    the verbal update regarding the foodbanks’ response to the Covid-19 pandemic be noted.

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