Blackburn community unites to fight holiday hunger
29 Oct 2020
The project taking inspiration from Marcus Rashford's campaign
Our journalist-at-large Ryan Herman speaks to Jacqueline McGrew, a resident of Shadsworth and Whitebirk Big Local in Blackburn, about the important community initiative ensuring that school children have access to food during the October half term.
On the first day of half-term, the tables inside the Community Shop on Accrington Road, Blackburn were covered with beige takeaway bags.
Each bag was filled up with fresh fruit, bread rolls, crisps, cartons of juice and a tin of soup. There were stacks of recipe cards and food fact sheets. And if you were a resident of either Shadsworth, Whitebirk or Romney Walk then they were yours for just 50p each.
We could see that there wasn’t going to be any food vouchers for families who are struggling.”
The ‘grab bags’ are part of Shadsworth and Whitebirk Big Local’s mission to Fight Holiday Hunger.
The partnership felt the need to act after MPs voted against a motion to extend free meal vouchers for children in need over the holiday periods up until Easter 2021.
“We could see what was happening and that there wasn’t going to be any food vouchers for families who are struggling,” says Shadsworth and Whitebirk chair Jacqueline McGrew.
“So we thought well we’ve got the shop, we’ve got an existing partnership with Fare Share (the UK’s largest food waste charity) and we’ll do whatever we can. We had everything set up within two days. We set aside some funds to get things started and, after that, whatever we take will be spent on buying more food.
“We’re coming into 2021 and you just can’t believe you’re making food parcels for kids to help them through the school holidays. We’ve been inundated with people asking for grab bags.”
The campaign has been supported by Shad Chefs – they have previously worked together a number of fundraising projects – along with food donations from the local community.
Jacqueline adds, “We wanted to make sure this was done properly. So residents who came to collect the bags had to show that they live here.”
The Shadsworth and Whitebirk estates are just a couple of miles from Blackburn’s city centre. Except for a few weeks in June and July, the city and its suburbs have been under some form of government restrictions since the first lockdown began on March 23.
We’re planning to do a community-wide meeting on Zoom to find out what people’s priorities are post-COVID.”
And Jacqueline has seen the toll its taking on her community. “Pensioners would always meet up at Morrisons for lunch and tea. Now they’ve got nowhere to go or they’re having to shield. There have been serious cases of people struggling to cope.”
Physical and mental health will also be an issue. Over a third of all households here have somebody living with a long-term activity-limiting illness.
Then there’s the economic fallout from COVID-19. Unemployment stood at 12 percent before lockdown, and that figure has only been going in one direction ever since.
Small businesses like her local hairdressers had to shut their doors again just a few weeks after they reopened in June. Jacqueline also runs a dance school but the teacher hasn’t been able to take any classes since March.
She says “Going forward, we’re planning to do a community-wide meeting on Zoom to find out what people want and what they think the priorities are post-COVID. We’re going involve councillors, the police, perhaps even the housing association.”
The community didn’t really know what Big Local was but we’ve got the right people in place now.”
Health and wellbeing are likely to be at the top of the agenda. “We have a Multi-Use Games Area behind me and there have been request to install floodlights so people can do sport after dark. We’re sorting out the funding so that will be a legacy for the young people here. We’ve been in talks with Street Games around supporting future projects.”
She has also been working on a project with Lancaster University around air pollution and the effect it can have on neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s – Shadsworth is within walking distance of the M65.
Jacqueline has been involved in Shadsworth and Whitebirk Big Local since day one. Having recently turned 74, her passion for community work remains as strong as ever.
“For quite some time the community didn’t really know what Big Local was. But we’ve got the right people in place now. We’ve got school teachers, the local police and the community involved.
“People say I need to slow down, but I just hope the things we wanted to do in 2020 will happen in 2021 and that life will get better.”
This feature is part of our series on Big Local responses to COVID-19, written by Ryan Herman, our Journalist-at-large. If you have a story you would like to share, please email Ryan.