My name is Lily and I am 16 years old, living in South West London and until this summer I had never experienced the reality of poverty in the United Kingdom. This summer I spent a week at the First Love Foundation and have learnt some of the most valuable life lessons. I have been instilled with a great sense of social responsibility to the most vulnerable members of our society. Having lived in the UK for most of my life I felt poverty was a thing of the past in a developed first world country. However, I couldn’t be more wrong. Throughout my time at the foundation I got involved with both helping individuals and also the larger outreaches of the charity. The foundation is de-stigmatising modern poverty; and helping the Government and commercial companies realise that poverty is still highly relevant in the 21st century.
Love Summer 2017…
On Monday I helped at a session of ‘Love Summer’ which is a programme to help families that struggle to feed their children during the holidays without free school meals. On average during the summer holidays families have to spend an extra £30 per week to feed their children. The morning was spent serving coffees and teas to parents, while their children played in brightly coloured soft mats and created arts and crafts. The children were also introduced to the game of baseball, thanks to a team from London Sports CIO, who gave their times to teach the children how to play the game. It was really fun and the laughter became contagious! It was great to see children who were initially unwilling to try something new get involved and enjoy themselves, despite a lack of confidence.
Additionally, both children and parents had an engaging activity about the importance of healthy eating. This was a great way to excite the children about eating fruit and vegetables, while showing their parents how easy it is to make healthy after-school snacks (while on a limited income). Then we all headed to lunch, where volunteers and customers ate together. This created a relaxed and informal environment; allowing parents to freely express themselves and seek advice about any struggles they are facing. The children also had the opportunity to get back to school haircuts. The session was amazing and it was lovely seeing the strong friendships between everyone. It was a perfect example of how First Love is transcending social and cultural barriers to bring people together. One mother said “[she] can’t wait to come back on Thursday!”
Spending time in the office…
The rest of the week was spent in the First Love Foundation offices with the team. I was lucky enough to have a formal induction about the aims and achievements of the Foundation. It was incredibly inspiring seeing the positive change the foundation is creating in Tower Hamlets, despite the increasing societal pressures. I was also given a tour of both Poplar and Canary Wharf which revealed to me the massive contrast between the two areas. I was quite shocked at the difference between the two places, it became quite apparent that the people working in Canary Wharf often had very little knowledge about the deprivation in the rest of the borough. My tours gave me vital context about the work of First Love, as they try and inform large companies about the hardships people face. Poplar was also extremely interesting, there is a large variety of architecture from 1960s council housing to the remains of 19th century buildings. This emphasised the historical importance of Tower Hamlets and its immense contribution to London’s culture.
I was also able to join the team in their meetings throughout the week. I was particularly interested in the meeting with the advertising agency, Mullen Lowe, who are creating a short video for First Love to help enlighten people about the reality of hidden poverty in London. I really enjoyed seeing the complex thought process behind the message of the video. The video is trying to remove the traditional archetype of poverty, and reintroduce a modern concept of crisis and its ability to affect anyone. Additionally, the meeting also gave me a greater awareness of the importance of balancing philanthropy and business. Another meeting I was involved in was discussing the future of the First Love website. It is interesting seeing the methods used to engage the public and educate them about the crises often faced in Tower Hamlets.
On my final day I also went for a quick visit to see the food bank services in action. This was the first time I have ever witnessed anyone receiving food or care. It was wonderful seeing people gain the resources they need to create a sustainable future and witness the genuine and accepting approach of the care workers at First Love.
I would like to say a massive thank you to the entire team at First Love for such an incredible experience. I am fortunate to live in a developed first world country all my life, with no first-hand experience of the shocking crises people face. I naively believed severe poverty in the UK was a thing of the past, and now only confined to Victorian literature. However, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Poplar is a perfect example of modern poverty. Poverty is becoming more hidden and easy to ignore, the First Love Foundation is successfully changing this narrative. I have been extremely humbled and inspired by their tireless efforts to improve the lives of people living within their community and eradicate injustice. I hope the ethos and methods of First Love become a clear model for all; which will eventually achieve the goal of a society without foodbanks because people have been given helpful, unbiased and loving advice to help rebuild their lives.
Have you ever wondered what kids on free school meals eat in the summer? Have you ever wondered how isolating Christmas can be for many people? Neither had we… until now.
Our names are Isabelle, Phoebe and Erin, we are 15 and 16 years old and live in North London. We have spent this week doing work experience at First Love Foundation. On our first day, we quickly came to the realisation of the poverty in Tower Hamlets. We were shocked after we learnt that 43.49% of children in Tower Hamlets live in poverty as our families have never been in similar situations. The contrast between the skyscrapers in Canary Wharf and the more deprived housing in Tower Hamlets is extreme. We didn’t understand why this contrast existed in such a wealthy city. We immediately became greatly interested in First Love and the work they do for all that ask for their help.
We spent the week doing various activities, such as working in the warehouse, discussing improvements for social media and creating a plan for a pack that schools can use to inform students on this crisis. One of the highlights of our week was fundraising in Shoreditch High Street Station where we raised £237.63. The local community were so generous, although we did “encourage” some people to donate with our charms. Also, during our morning at the warehouse, we were pleasantly surprised by the mass of food given by local businesses, schools, churches and companies to name a few.
When we arrived, we quickly felt at ease in the office as all the staff were welcoming and kind. They have given up their time for us to create an enjoyable and busy week. Moreover, their office is bright and colourful, filled with plants and can only be described as “funky” and “creative.”
We would like to thank the team at First Love Foundation for treating us as their colleagues and welcoming us with open arms. We could not have asked for a better work experience!
Friday 2nd June saw the launch of the 2017 East End Film Festival, opening with the open air screening of Jerome Robbins & Robert Wise’s classic musical, West Side Story in Tower Hamlet’s most historic Old Spitalfields Market. The event was held in partnership with Films for Food, a ground-breaking project of local film & documentary makers, Rainbow Collective, in support of our work in Tower Hamlets.
Despite the downpour of torrential rain, over 350 intrepid souls made it out to this fantastic event. Instead of charging an entry fee, all were encouraged to donate a bag of much needed food and toiletries.
Our CEO Denise Bentley, was kindly given the opportunity to speak to the audience and the WinkBall online reporting team ahead of the film, further raising awareness of hidden hunger in the community of Tower Hamlets and the work we do to tackle it. Check out their video here.
The Westside Story screening was a huge success – the audience clapped, sung, some even danced, laughed and shed a tear throughout the evening, especially as the film drew towards its tense and emotional close.
Saturday, a much brighter and sunnier day, saw the equally delightful showing of ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ – the audience was enraptured, bringing about many smiles and sing-a-longs in the sunshine from old and young alike.
Over the weekend a whopping 372.7kg of food items was generously donated by all who attended, which will provide 745 meals and help 75 people – the biggest total of food & toiletries ever donated at a Films for Food event!
“Films for Food would like to thank the wonderful team at the East End Film Festival & Old Spitalfields Market for giving us the opening night of the festival to do one of our events. This shows how unique EEFF is and how much it cares for its community. This event has allowed Films for Food to break all previous records with a massive 372.7kg of food for the Tower Hamlets community.” Hannan of Rainbow Collective (and co-founder of Films for Food)
The team at First Love would like to send our thanks to every single person who came along and kindly donated in support of First Love Foundation. Every item given will go such a long way to support those within our community facing food crisis and also to those who will attend our upcoming Love Summer project that provides advice and support to low income families.
Finally, we would like to extend a huge vote of thanks for the fantastic efforts of Richard & Hannan of Films for Food (Rainbow Collective), the wonderful East End Film Festival directors and their team of volunteers, the management team of Old Spitalfields Market and, of course, the brilliant and generous audience.
About Films for Food – Films for Food have hosted a number of events in support of First Love Foundation since 2014. They have also worked creatively with families we have supported, giving young people a voice through the medium of film. Their Films For Food nights have been well supported by other local venues including Hub67 in Hackney Wick, and more recently, Kafe 1788 in Poplar. Follow them on Twitter for news about their upcoming events.
If you think you could organise an event or fundraise in support of our work, we would love to hear from you! Please get in touch by filling out this form.
You may have been watching the unfolding story in EastEnders where Denise Fox is facing crisis, after losing her job and has to visit a foodbank. If EastEnders was real life, then Walford would be Tower Hamlets, so Denise would have most likely been referred to our service. This is how we would have helped her get back on her feet.
Denise would have been welcomed into our session by our friendly volunteers, offered a cup of tea and biscuit while waiting to see our Project Worker. Our volunteer team are skilled at helping put people at ease at what is a difficult time. We don’t judge at First love Foundation, our first response is to love and care for everyone we see.
Denise would have then met with our Project Worker who helps find the root cause of the problem, as crisis is often made up of a number issues. Our Project Worker is also there to give encouragement and support the people we see.
Based on what we understood her circumstance to be, we would then have referred her onto our specialist welfare rights advice team who are there at the session. Their primary focus is to help her gain access to the financial support she is entitled to. Our volunteers would then bring Denise her emergency supply of food and toiletries which would provide short term help until the crisis is resolved. She would also be connected with assistance to help her back into employment and towards sustainable living, reducing long term dependence on charitable food support.
This is the “First Love way” of responding to food crisis and we have served the community of Tower Hamlets in this way since 2013. Typically, there is a 67% chance that Denise would not have to return to our service as we had helped her resolve the crisis and get back on her feet.
On average every month, we meet around 100 people like Denise who are referred to our service in need of help. But we cannot do it alone. Help us support people in Denise’s position by donating today. Your support could help transform someone’s life from crisis to sustainability. Click here to donate and find out more.
So, let’s see how the story unfolds in EastEnders next week…
This week is Mental Health Awareness Week #MHAW17 and the theme is ‘Surviving or Thriving?’. Mental health is often an underlying reason to why people are referred to us. It is estimated that 1 in 6 people in the past week experienced a common mental health problem. (1)
For people facing crisis and who are isolated from a support network, their health and well-being is prone to decreasing. The poorer and more disadvantaged are disproportionately affected by common mental health problems and their adverse consequences. (2)
We interviewed our Project Worker, Fenna, about mental health and why this can be both a cause and an effect of crisis. Fenna has ten years’ experience of working with people suffering from mental health issues in various different settings, from psychiatric wards to social housing.
Why are people referred to First Love Foundation?
Our service is for people facing crisis. We define crisis as having no money and no food to support yourself and your dependents. Food crisis is the main issue for being referred but this is often as a result of other underlying issues which may have triggered mental and emotional problems. For example, debt, housing, unemployment, bereavement and family breakdown can all lead to an income shock, thus creating a food crisis.
What is the relationship between mental health and crisis?
I think it can become a negative cycle that can trap people. For example, the crisis may be due to an issue like a income delay or change, which may have a negative impact on someone’s mental health. It is this cycle, that can make a person vulnerable to experiencing food crisis again in the future if they are not able to seek and access the help they need.
How would you define good mental health?
Good mental health is about having an outlook in life that encourages healthy behaviours and relationships. I believe our mental health is closely related to our emotional, physical, and spiritual health. I believe a part of maintaining good mental health is being able to build resilience and also develop coping mechanisms that are not destructive.
What steps can we take to look after our mental health and build resilience to cope with the demands of life?
A lot of the time, mental health issues have occurred from circumstances that were beyond a person’s control. But I think there is hope of gaining back a meaningful life.
- At times, we need to deal with traumatic experiences that have happened in the past – this is where counselling, psychotherapy or the creative arts therapies can really help.
- The highly regarded Recovery Star Model is a good example of how mental health practitioners work with people to help aid their recovery. The holistic approach promotes the importance of having a balanced life in areas like work, physical health, friendship/relationships, spiritual life and education and helps to build resilience.
- Developing self-awareness and having a support network in place can help build our resilience to mental health issues. Having self-awareness can lead to us making healthy decisions about our life that can benefit our health & wellbeing.
What would you suggest for people who may be struggling with their mental health?
Depending on the condition and the severity of it, I would advise that they go and see their GP for advice as soon as possible. There are a range of therapies available to help unpick the triggers and begin the road to recovery, examples are counselling, psychotherapy, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and the creative therapies. People can also find huge benefits through their faith and this can be the hope at the end of the tunnel for some. Where the mental health crisis could be serious or life threatening, where immediate help is needed, there are crisis helplines like Mind and locally based Community Mental Health Teams (GPs can refer people to), who are there to help.
Donate now to help the people we meet thrive, instead of just survive. Your donations help us to support those facing crisis build a more stable and hopeful future. Read Alfred’s story to find out how we help.
For more information about Mental Health, visit the Mental Health Foundation website.
To contact the Mind Info Helpline for advice and support – call 0300 123 3393 or text 86463
- McManus S, Bebbington P, Jenkins R, Brugha T. (eds.) (2016) Mental health and wellbeing in England: Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey 2014. Leeds: NHS Digital. Available at: http://content.digital.nhs.uk/catalogue/PUB21748/apms-2014-full-rpt.pdf [Accessed 5 October 2016]
- Patel V, Lund C, Hatherill S, Plagerson S, Corrigall J, Funk M, & Flisher AJ. (2010). Mental disorders: equity and social determinants. Equity, social determinants and public health programmes, 115.