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!

Our eye-opening week at First Love…

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, we2 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.

4We 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 a3n 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!


Films For Food and the East End Film Festival

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 downp18928504_10158831759965083_216209418_nour 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.

Case Study – Denise Fox, EastEnders

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.

Our advanced referral system means that we know who is going to attend our service and the crisis they are facing, so we can plan ahead and help quickly and effectively.eastenders-denise-food-bank

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.

PAY-The-return-of-Cora-and-the-desperation-of-DeniseBased 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…

Mental Health and Crisis

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)

That’s why we’re here, so no-one has to face crisis alone.Fenna

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

First Love Foundation, Tower Hamlets Charity

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


  1. 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: [Accessed 5 October 2016]
  2. 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.

The YMC’s fantastic quiz night..

This week The Insurance Institute of London’s Young Members’ Committee organised their first ever charity quiz night and kindly chose to support us. The quiz was held at the Steam Wine Bar Restaurant – thank you to Steve and the team for kindly donating the space for the night.

The quiz consisted of multiple rounds ranging from history to sport to films. The night finished with a well-supported raffle in which people won amazing prizes of champagne, haircuts, meals out and not to mention, a mattress!

Congratulations to the winners!

Congratulations to the winners!

We are greatly appreciative for their kindness and generosity organising the event. They also gave Andrew Manning, our Trustee and former Insurance Underwriter, the opportunity to speak at the event; he raised awareness of the key critical issues in Tower Hamlets and shared about the work First Love Foundation does to address this and promote change in the community and society as a whole.

“The Insurance Institute of London’s Young Members’ Committee was delighted to support First Love Foundation at our first Charity Quiz Night. We selected the charity after learning of the stark reality faced by those in crisis in Tower Hamlets, compared to our experience of working just down the road in the Square Mile. It was amazing to see the charity’s work in person and hear how its services result in 67% of immediate issues being solved on first visit. It shows what a need there is for this service and how it really benefits the community we work in. We were humbled to help raise awareness and money for such a great cause.”

Sydonie Williams ACII, Insurance Institute of London Young Members’ Committee & Senior Underwriter, Gen Re

After totalling up the cash donations from the raffle and ticket sales, the grand total raised was an amazing £2447.85 – a brilliant result from such a fantastic evening!

In his speech, Andrew gave some examples of how the donations will impact our work:

  • £10 will cover the cost of drinks and biscuits provided at one of our Crisis Centre sessions.
  • £50 covers the cost of a 1-2-1 session with a project worker to unpick a client’s problems and begin the journey out of crisis
  • A monthly donation of £20, with gift aid will provide us with £300 per year, which will help deliver a bespoke package of support to help a person move towards employment, live sustainably and no longer having to rely on emergency food support.

Thank you to everyone who was involved in the event’s success, particularly Lindsey, Sydonie, Hannah, Cat and Holly from the IIL YMC; John the Quiz MC for the night; Steve and hiIMG_20170329_193157s team at the Steam Wine Bar for hosting; and of course, everyone who attended and donated so generously. You will make such a difference to people in Tower Hamlets, helping them break the cycle of crisis and start the journey towards a sustainable future.

Please fill in this fundraising form if you are interested in hosting a charity quiz night or another fundraising event for First Love Foundation – we would love to hear from you.

Check out this video from the night produced by Steam Wine Bar.

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