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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!

The Summer Holidays: How it affects London’s poorest Borough

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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.
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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.

– Caroline

5 Things You Can Do in Lockdown to Make This All Seem Worth It

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.

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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.

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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 :-)

Get Arty

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.

 

Christina

A Little Something to Help the Anxiety

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.

BREATHE

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.

Just 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.’

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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!

– Yasmine

 

 

Our Thoughts on COVID-19

Since 2010, First Love Foundation have been an active force within the community of Tower Hamlets, supporting people out of crisis, and ultimately changing lives – for the better. Our aim was, and has always been, to work towards a time where no one needs a foodbank – or the equivalent. Despite many trials over the ten years we’ve been in operation, we could have never predicted a time like this. It is a shock. The virus is rampant, and the likelihood is that in some way, shape or form, the impact of the virus will ripple through communities in ways that may affect the way you currently live your life for the foreseeable future, if it hasn’t done so already.

 

In times like this it is easy to feel down, lost, or out of control. But there are elements of this you can you can control. You can opt to do the right thing.

 

Years from now, when we look to days of old, each of us will be remembered by our behaviour during this time.

 

Did we act with compassion? Or in spite?

Did we love our neighbour? Or turn our backs on them?

Did we help those who have the greatest need before ourselves? Or did we hide away in fear?

 

Did you make things better? Or did you make things worse?

 

The road ahead looks tough. But I think I can say with some certainty that we will get through it if we work together. We have brilliant people from all sectors within our society working to keep us safe and well – which means our thoughts must now go toward those that operate the 4th Emergency Service. Us.

 

But while this crisis is going on, it’s also important to remember to take time for you. With uncertainty in the air, it’s easy to fall in to worry, and potentially even dark thoughts – I know I’ve been there. So in the midst of this war we’re fighting – you need to remember to take time for you. And that can be as simple as picking up a book, or playing a board game, finally taking the time to learn how to make sourdough bread, or setting up your own YouTube channel.

 

As for us, we’re tidying up our contingency plans, ready to hit the ground running every time our government provides an update. We have plans for volunteers as well as staff to make up emergency food packs for those in need, and we’re in the process of finding people as well as vans to make operations easier. We won’t rest until they’re looked after – no one should face crisis alone.

 

In the meantime, focus on brighter days. We’ll hopefully be there soon.

 

– Christina, Marketing Executive at First Love

Lily’s week at First Love Foundation…

lily pic 2My 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 vidlily pic 1eo 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.

Final thoughts… 

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.

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