First Love Blog
From March 2020, we aim to inspire and uplift with every post we write. The First Love blog has always been about documenting the support of the community, our success stories and the like – but we are living in a very testing time right now. We hope you can come here to unwind, be inspired, and leave wanting to create positive change. We hope you enjoy!
This week has been such a busy one!
With the commencement of London Challenge Poverty Week, we’ve had such a good time sharing stories, encouraging debate and generally raising awareness of the issues that are ever-present for the people of Tower Hamlets who are in crisis.
The week kicked off with us announcing three challenges over on our socials, the first being a challenge to your thinking on poverty, as we introduced one of our First Love heroes – James.
Wednesday’s challenge saw us challenging you to take action. We shared a few ways for you to get involved – the first being signing the petitions below, forcing the government to make changes to legislation that impact those most in need. We also wanted you to take today to educate yourself on pressing issues surrounding poverty. Lastly (but just as importantly), we wanted you to read up on the Hero Stories on our website to see the change you’ve already made.
Get signing the links below, and we’ll see you on Friday for challenge three!
Stop TFL from removing free travel for under-18s – https://www.change.org/p/transport-for-london-stop-tfl-from-removing-free-travel-for-under-18s
Stop the Rot! Call on supermarkets to tackle food waste in their supply chains – https://www.change.org/p/stop-the-rot-end-supply-chain-food-waste?source_location=petitions_browse
Increase in the minimum wage to a real living wage – https://www.change.org/p/uk-government-increase-in-the-minimum-wage-to-a-real-living-wage?source_location=petitions_browse
Create a Minister For Poverty responsible for tackling poverty and its causes – https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/328533
Loneliness. It’s an uncomfortable word, isn’t it? Many of us might not admit to feeling lonely, and whilst the UK has come on leaps and bounds with talking about mental health, it still isn’t an easy task. In May we launched our Befriending Service in response to the loneliness being recorded by our team speaking to referred clients. Since then we’ve made it our job to gently excavate and discover whether the individuals who use our service are experiencing loneliness. If they are, and if they would like to, they are then Befriended. Here’s what our Befriending Service looks like and how it came about.
If you asked us at the beginning of the year about whether we would still be largely affected by COVID-19, we probably would have told you to be more positive, and that things will get better ahead. Though we made provisions, one being the introduction of our Emergency Model to keep up with the influx of the inevitable new cases we were to see, this crisis has caused another epidemic of its own – loneliness.
The heavy restrictions enforced by the government earlier on this year, coupled with the virus itself, has meant that people of all ages are feeling more isolated than ever. And the virus has devastated lives of all ages. School kids said goodbye to their peers back in March, not knowing when they would see them again. The elderly left alone without visits from family, single people isolated alone in homes across the country and families left to cope alone with very difficult times.
It’s altered the very fabric of our society – we’ve embraced a new normal.
What this has meant for a lot of us is a shift in what we have always perceived as normal life. For once, isolating, working from home and not seeing friends is exactly what we are supposed to do. The knock-on effect however has been astronomical, and this has been extremely prevalent through the eyes of the charity. We found that from almost the very beginning of the breakout, people would dial in for support with issues they were now faced with as a result of the virus, but they also wanted to stay on the line for a talk.
Our job went from finding out about why the individual was in crisis and tackling the root cause of their problem to also being a friend. Listening for longer. Making people feel less alone. We could hear the excitement in their voices when the conversation went past providing the initial advice and support. Even if it was for 5 or 10 minutes, people just wanted to be heard. More often than not, we were the only voices they would hear.
For one of our volunteers, they found it heartbreaking knowing more could potentially be done yet not having the means to, due to the large increase in demand over the last few months:
“It was difficult as a triage volunteer or someone doing case work, knowing there was an emotional need that wasn’t being met – purely because of time.”
– Volunteer, Team First Love
With a time-poor team, given the 925% increase in demand on our service, we realisied something needed to be done to ensure these individuals were given the extra phone time they craved. How could we further support those that are feeling lonely and wanted to speak?
We needed to make a change so that we could see change. With social distancing measures in place until at least the end of the year, feelings of anxiety, depression and isolation would only be heightened, realistically for the foreseeable future. We saw a need for an extension of our work. It goes beyond supporting people out of crisis and with welfare advice. What people need is someone to check in. See how they are. They need someone to ask how their day is going and what they’ve been thinking.
They need someone to be human.
We were essentially taking the place of carers and family and this meant we needed to dedicate real time to that. As a result, we launched the Befriending Service.
How it works
When people are referred, we set up an initial phone call to assess their situation, in an effort to start resolving their issues. Whilst triaging them, the conversation has always gone down the route of finding out how the person is. “How are you?”, “What did you get up to on the weekend?”, “How are your little ones doing?”, “How are you coping during this crisis?”, and “How are you really doing?” are all questions that can be heard around the office. We ask questions we would like to be asked ourselves – but surface-level questions invite surface-level answers. So we always take the time to go deeper. If we feel there is a need to dig a bit deeper, or that a person would benefit from being be-friended, we offer them that service. If they accept, they join a roster of people that members of the team call on a weekly basis for a chat, and we stay on the phone for however long is needed. Sometimes five minutes, sometimes fifty.
We’ve had a really good time with it so far.
Over night Befriending became an in demand service, headed up by our volunteer Sue. Since 17th May, our volunteer Sue has Befriended a total of 112 individuals. At the peak of demand, we were supporting befriending 81 individuals at one time and had a waiting list.
We currently have 48 active clients, but expect this to increase again over the coming months as Government restrictions will see loneliness rise once again.
Prior to COVID-19, many of these people would never have needed a Befriended Service. The pandemic made this a crucial, necessary development for us.
“More than ever, I truly feel like I am making a difference. When I make a call to a regular and they pick up the phone and realise it’s me, I hear the smile in their voice. I know I’ve helped make their day. And they don’t realise it, but they’ve made my year.”
– Member of Team First Love
We need to expand our Befriending Service to ensure that the winter months are more manageable for people experiencing loneliness. This Christmas is likely to be one of the most difficult yet for the individuals we support. We are expanding our Befriending Service over the next few months as a key part of our offering. If you would like to support us, please donate to help us expand this service. You can do so here.
A happy ending to this sad story, but we’re always of the opinion that we could be doing more. And whilst this is a step in the right direction, we’re not finished yet. First Love Foundation will keep seeing a need, and responding to it, as our service is about way more than meeting targets and trying to solve issues that are surface level. We will always stay compassionate and grounded.
It’s about people at the end of the day. So let’s be people.
If you would like to help support us as the demand for our service increases, please consider donating to us regularly by clicking here, or the purple ‘Donate’ button in the top right-hand corner of the screen. You’re helping us transform lives.
School meals are essential for many families across the borough, yet somehow the children that benefit from this vital service are forgotten during the holidays.
For some, the summer holidays means beaches, lemonade and carefree days at the park, but for some families, being able to afford enough food is a new anxiety. Year on year, 200,000 children across the UK who are normally eligible for free school meals find themselves without this essential support. 2020 is no exception with increased economic pressures from COVID-19.
The pressure felt across the UK is particularly concentrated at Tower Hamlets. Nearly half of all children in the UK living in poverty are located in Tower Hamlets. This is why programmes like Love Summer, which cater to these children, are critical to ensure no one goes hungry across the borough.
Love Summer started with the aim to solve the issue of holiday hunger, whilst also providing key support to parents during the six week summer holidays. Since 2010, we noticed a trend in the need for support, which was evident over the summer holidays. To put this into perspective, free school meals would cover five meals for one child over the course of one school week. Times that by six for the six weeks of the summer and that is 30 meals per child as an added cost to the parent.
The importance of food for all children was highlighted in the media at the beginning of summer thanks to voices like Marcus Rashford, 22 year old Manchester United footballer. When the Department for Education announced that the free school meal vouchers would not extend through the summer holidays, Rashford spoke up.
In an open letter shared on twitter, he talked about his experience living in poverty and asked the government to reconsider their decision to cancel the food voucher scheme during the COVID-19 pandemic. The government did a u-turn and did not cancel the scheme during term time, however, many families still need to take on this expense once summer holidays begin.
Rashford said: “Parents like mine would rely on kids’ clubs over the Summer break, providing a safe space and at least one meal, whilst they work.” He added, “today, these essential kids’ clubs are not an option during the pandemic.”
Healthy and regular meals give children the best chance at succeeding in school. Children need good food to grow, to concentrate and to have fun. Anxiety around going hungry and hunger itself increases the risk of other health problems. Everyone needs a strong immune system – especially during a pandemic.
This year particularly, with financial pressures almost doubling due to the devastation caused by the pandemic, it was an even bigger challenge for parents to keep their children fed during the summer holidays. Our Love Summer programme provides a variety of advice, support, food, activities and workshops to families in Tower Hamlets. We focus our support on those families which receive free school meals during term time and face financial difficulty in feeding their children during the summer holidays.
During the pandemic, First Love Foundation saw a 900%+* increase in people turning to our service for support. This increased need meant adapting the programme to an online format so it could run safely. We delivered a programme of online workshops with food delivered directly to individual’s homes, as opposed to our usual format face-to-face of activities and meals.
Thank you to everyone who supported this year’s Love Summer 2020. You’ve made the summer holidays much easier for the families we support, and much more enjoyable for the children too!
If you want to help out, then jump over to our donation page. We are still collecting donations to cover costs, plus here’s loads of information about the project and what that means for the parents of Tower Hamlets. Our organisation is funded solely by public support so your donations are what allows us to deliver projects like this to people who need them most.
*compared with figures from last year.
With the recent announcement of social distancing in the UK ‘likely to be in place until the end of the year’, it’s never been clearer that things won’t be returning to ‘normal’ any time soon. Despite this news, I personally want to make the most of this time that we have, for the most part, at home.
Don’t get me wrong – lockdown sucks. But despite its limitations, and the negative reasons we are in a state of lockdown, you can almost see this time as a blessing in disguise. You now have a lot of time to yourself. What do you plan to do with all of it?
I’ve mustered up five things (some of which I’ll be doing myself) to take the sting out of lockdown. It’s already a shocking, confusing and sad time – let’s use the time we have now to make it a bit brighter.
Grow Your Own Food
For the last few years, every April (sometimes May if I’m late), I grow cherry tomatoes in my garden. And each year, I’m amazed by what can happen if you cut some tomatoes in half and put them in soil. Growing food has always seemed a bit daunting, but once I got into the swing of things with the tomatoes, I thought I’d branch out and try a few new things this year.
And I went crazy.
By some stroke of luck (and a lot of resilience) this year I am growing: Cherry Tomatoes, Butternut Squash, Bell Peppers, Chilli Peppers, Garlic, Strawberries, (yes there’s more) Courgettes, Celery, Sweetcorn, Rosemary, Thyme, Basil and Parsley. Now, will they all work? I have no clue – but I can say with some certainty that so far it has been such a rewarding experience. Starting plants from seed and seeing them grow up, get strong and develop is inspiring – it’s a reminder every day that the world out there is a beautiful one.
I’m not saying you need to go all out and grow everything – especially if space and/or resources is an issue, but you could start small – you could start with a pot of soil on your windowsill, and some seeds from a cherry tomato in your fridge.
Master Baking Bread
Why has lockdown meant that we first bulk bought toilet roll, and are now raiding stores for strong white bread flour to mass-produce sourdough bread? Or Banana Bread? It may be a stab at self-sufficiency, and to be fair, would be a great skill to have coming out of lockdown… but random? Most definitely. Regardless, I’ve always found cooking to be a form of escapism – for me it’s almost therapy. For however long, the kitchen is yours, and you have the opportunity to create anythingyou want to make – as long as you have the ingredients, and the willpower to do it. Take the opportunity now while you have the time, to fall in love with food.
Take Back Your Skin
If you are not currently working, or have the pleasure of working from home – not having to leave the house has many benefits – no more makeup, warm cosy clothes replace our office-wear, and we are unlimited in our options for what to have for our meals everyday!
Use this time to take back your skin, hair and nails. Nourish your body with good food and watch your skin start to glow from the inside out! Leave your makeup alone and your skin to breathe and take in the sun and the clean air we’re having! (I haven’t worn makeup for the best part of two months!!!).
Repair your hair in the same way by eating lots of healthy fats and proteins, and treat yourself to a hair mask once a week to add to its shine! You’ll be a dream coming out of this quarantine!
Taking time for yourself is so, so important. It’ll help keep you sane
Of man’s many great talents, the composition of the arts have to be up there with some of the greatest things ever created. Artistic expression, whether it be through the medium of film, music, literature, painting or sculpture is beautiful, and at the focal point of many of our lives. At times like these, I feel we can all find great comfort in immersing ourselves fully and wholeheartedly into them all.
I’m sure you’ve heard of so many greats you’ve always been recommended, but have never got around to watching… why not start now?
I’ve always been a big fan of Tarantino films – and frankly I’d recommend them all! Especially if you have the stomach for a bit of gore – ‘Pulp Fiction’, ‘Kill Bill’ 1 and 2, ‘Inglorious Basterds’ and ‘Once Upon A Time In Hollywood’ are all amazing watches. ‘Goodfellas’, ‘The Breakfast Club’, ‘The Shawshank Redemption’, ‘Fargo’ are just a few ‘greats’ that I have been asked to watch over the years, I hope these are a good starting point!
The same goes for reading, and writing! There are so many great books out there I wouldn’t even know where to start, but reading books, fiction or non-fiction can be a great gateway into writing stories of your own. It would be great to document these times actually, they are once in a lifetime.
Painting can serve as a great release for tension and anxiety – another great idea to try!
Clean Up, Clear Out, and Decorate!
I, as well as others within the First Love team, have been sharing our success in finally getting round to doing bits and bobs around the house to spruce things up a bit. If we have to stay indoors, why not make it a bit more homely?
In our day to day lives, more than ever it’s been made clear to us that we really haven’t had the chance to take time for ourselves. The commute to and from work takes its toll on the best of us. After working the usual 9-5, and getting home 1-2 hours later, investing time in continuing to make your house a home is a daunting task. Now that we are almost bound to our homes and home life, do yourself a favour and make your house somewhere you really love to live.
“If you have kids, giving them the task of growing a plant from seed will give them a sense of ownership and responsibility.”
As mentioned earlier, plants are a great way to spruce things up and bring some life into your home – fun pots and planters keep things fresh and helps bring a certain individualism into your home. If you have kids, giving them the task of growing a plant from seed will give them a sense of ownership and responsibility, and is a great summer project that they can check in on nearly every day! DIY is a great way to spend the time and another great project the whole family can get involved in! Reclaimed wood shelves, hand-formed clay pottery, and hand-painted prints are just some of the things easy to create, but would easily add so much beauty to your interiors.
Transforming your bedroom can really transform your peace of mind. Yasmine, part of team First Love, made a great point the other day that rings true for so many of us – “What you see when you wake up really effects how you feel, and often frames your mood for the day.” Give yourself the best chance at feeling great every day by investing a bit of time, and maybe a bit of money into making your space feel and look amazing.
Whatever your creative outlet is, to help get through this a little easier, let us know. We’d love to hear what you’ve been doing with your days.
Anxiety. That dirty word with so much power. Have you had it? I know I have.
Takes you over, doesn’t it? And sometimes for reasons completely unbeknown to you.
With COVID-19 and the state of the world, there is no surprise that many of us are facing high levels of anxiety, depression, sadness and general worry. Managing those feelings is a personal thing and there certainly isn’t a one-size-fits-all technique which can cure or even reduce any of the weight of those emotions… but there is something I would like to recommend.
Last night I discovered something beautiful; a free, live, breathwork class. I hadn’t heard of breathwork before, let alone understood it’s importance, but for 60 minutes I breathed.
The live session is with @breathewithjames (over on Instagram) and James guides you through the technique. You don’t need to have done it before, all you need is a comfortable place, a pillow and 60 minutes for yourself.
We caught up with James this morning to explain the benefits of breathwork.
‘There has never been a more important time to learn how to breathe. The breath – something most of us so take for granted and never pay much attention to has suddenly been thrust into the limelight through the unfortunate circumstance of COVID-19. Now is the time to start connecting to and understanding the power of your breath. Now is the time to start practicing Breathwork.
Breathwork is the quickest, most powerful and effective way to enhance and transform one’s state of mind and body.
Breathing is the only system in our body that is both automatic and under our control. This is not a coincidence. It’s an invitation to tap into and influence the evolution of our mind and body. Once understood, breathing practices can be used as a tool to radically improve our physical and mental health, performance and emotional wellbeing.’
We encourage you to join the session this coming Thursday 9th April at 6pm and breathe with us! We’ll be there!
This will take place every Tuesday and Thursday, on Instagram Live at 6pm. You can access the session on James’ Page, here. The sessions are not recorded because James wants to encourage people to come and breathe together as one, in real time.
Expect more recommendations and blogs from us. We’ll get through this together!
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