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Fury as food stall for homeless removed ‘due to coronavirus’

PUBLISHED: 18:13 28 March 2020 | UPDATED: 15:06 29 March 2020

Norwich City Council has removed a Haymarket stall used by volunteers to feed the vulnerable Photo: People's Picnic

Norwich City Council has removed a Haymarket stall used by volunteers to feed the vulnerable Photo: People's Picnic

Archant

The long running dispute over a food stall used to feed the vulnerable has taken a new twist, leaving volunteers feeling heartbroken.

Over 40,000 signatures were collected for a petition in 2018 in response to Norwich City Council’s intention to remove the Haymarket stall from the city centre, due to its age and condition.

Volunteer groups, including the Norwich Soup Movement and the People’s Picnic, have continued to provide food and provisions for vulnerable and homeless people on every night of the week.

However, the stall has now been removed, with a city council statement explaining that social distancing measures in relation to the coronavirus pandemic had proved decisive.

“As part of public health measures being taken to protect people from Covid-19, stalls on Haymarket have been removed,” a city council spokesperson posted on Facebook.

“We’re in touch with groups using the stalls to provide food, and have invited them to join our collective efforts to deliver food to those in need.

“There are a number of ways volunteers can help support people safely; from assisting with food deliveries to donating any excess food.”

A link to full details of council provisions for accommodation and food being offered was also included, but the decision left the volunteers who used the stall upset.

The Peoples’ Picnic posted on their Facebook page that the council had “done what they have been wanting to do for years” and said the pandemic had been used as an excuse, pledging to continue their work.

Meanwhile, one of the Norwich Soup Movement’s organisers posted a long message on their group’s Facebook page, saying “my heart is broken by the heavy injustice of it all”.

The message claimed the stall had been removed without any warning and that their team had still tended to 50 people on Friday, vowing not to give up and thanking their fellow volunteers, concluding: “I can only speak for myself when I say that I’ll never quit. But I’m beyond grateful for the team that shares the load and feels as passionately as I, and for all the people that support our work.”

You can read both statements in full below...

- THE PEOPLES’ PICNIC

So the council have just done what they have been wanting to do for years. This morning (Friday) they removed the stall we serve food from, under the guise of it being in the best interests of the community.

What a cheap shot, they don’t care about the community, but they make a pretty penny from them. They haven’t replaced our service, they have just used a pandemic to get rid of the stalls!!

Shocking. My heart breaks for the most vulnerable in society, those that rely on us for supplies. You can remove the stall, but you won’t get rid of the grassroots that easily!

We are watching you just as closely, we do exactly what we tell the public we do. How about you guys in your nice office in your ivory tower, can you say the same?!

- THE NORWICH SOUP MOVEMENT

It is with a very heavy heart that I have to make this post.

Yesterday morning, I received an email from the city council, advising me that the stall we serve from at Haymarket had been torn down overnight. Their thinking being that this will stop homeless people from congregating there during the Covid-19 situation. However, the email also stated that all homeless people have now been accommodated, so there would be no need for us to operate.

A lot of people will be thinking that this is a good thing. However, I’m going to tell you why my heart is broken by the heavy injustice of it all, and why this chaotic course of action is going to be long-term detrimental for so many.

The council, who vowed two years ago to work with the grassroots groups, never contacted us about this at all. There was no chance for discussion. They have repeatedly ignored emails asking if the homeless of Norwich would be looked after during this outbreak.

While this has been going on, we have put strong safety measures in place, to ensure the wellbeing of guest and volunteer alike. The council have not considered this and have bulldozed in over our hard work to keep people fed. They have also ignored a 44,000 signature strong petition to leave the stall in place.

Fearing that the council’s claims of everyone being accommodated and fed were largely imaginary, yesterday we as a team decided to carry on. We made up 60 packed dinner bags with water, treats, sandwiches etc. The very best we could do under extreme pressure, time constraints, and ensuring a safe distance was kept. Volunteers split into groups of two, keeping a safe distance from one another, and headed into town to do a walkabout, on the off chance that there were some people out, waiting for food.

Fifty people were seen and tended to by our volunteers. Fifty.

Let me be clear here, I would love nothing more than for everyone to be off the streets right now. My stress levels are off the scale and it would be a TREAT for someone else to be looking after everyone. I would welcome the news that our pals were being appropriately isolated, fed and cared for. I mean, that’s the end goal for NSM! (Bar isolation, but you know what I mean). But this is a half-arsed, too little too late, ill thought out attempt, to stop evening meals for the city’s most vulnerable.

This also reaches further than the homeless. We have many elderly people that come to eat with us. They have accommodation, but they still rely on us for food. I would love for these people to stay home in the warm and wait for this all to blow over, but they still need to eat. Even if they had the money to go shopping, the supermarkets are chaos. Some of these people use a crutch or mobility aid, or have arthritis, and are unable to make nourishing hot meals at home. The removal of the stall yesterday must have been like a punch in the (very hungry) stomach. What a powerful message to send out to our elderly friends.

What happens when this is all over and the temporary accommodation is off limits and kicking people out? There will still be mouths to feed at Haymarket and beyond. Because I’m willing to bet that these people will not be permanently housed after this crisis is over. I’d love for that to happen. The romantic in me hopes for the best. The realist in me prepares for the worst.

The email I received was amongst the most patronising I’ve ever received. I was asked if my team would like to walk dogs for people, not homeless, but anyone, who is stuck indoors isolating. This, whilst being a very valid job because dogs are the best, is the part that made me want to just quit yesterday.

We have put six and a half years of our time, effort and love into literally keeping folk alive, creating bonds, laughing together, and caring for people unconditionally. Not to mention all the money that you, our supporters, have donated. This suggestion is a complete waste of our expertise, skills, and resources. I shouldn’t care, but it’s like a knife in the guts and I am fiercely offended on behalf of my volunteers who have continuously gone above and beyond what I could ever have envisioned.

The last thing we want is to put anybody in danger. We are adhering to guidelines. We are encouraging people to distance from their friends. We are serving at a distance and we have stopped any actions that may lead to bunching or crowding. We are not stupid, and neither are those we care for. The lack of respect is staggering, and I’m disgusted by it all.

I don’t know what happens next. A petition seems pointless. They ignored the last one, after all. They ignored emails asking for a plan as soon as isolating was mentioned. I am afraid that they have the power and will do as they see fit regardless of our concerns, as they always have, and because of this I fear that any talks between us would rapidly break down. There is little chance of a collaborative comeback from this.

The word from my volunteers is that we will carry on, adhering to safety guidelines, until there’s nobody left out there to feed. Which is good because that’s exactly my plan.

Foodbank is empty, I’ve done so many parcels this week. Shops are empty, Amazon is empty. I think we have to take things day by day, which is extremely difficult when you’re used to being able to feed everyone at the drop of a hat.

I can only speak for myself when I say that I’ll never quit. But I’m beyond grateful for the team that shares the load and feels as passionately as I, and for all the people that support our work.

Thank you will never be enough, but thank you all the same.

Stay safe, stay indoors, be kind, eat your greens, adopt a cat.

Love from, Chip xoxox

Norwich City Council, I would love to hear from you regarding all points raised.


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