Becky Hughes, Community Co-Ordinator at Freeman Brothers Funeral Directors
Freeman Brothers Funeral Directors was first established in Horsham, West Sussex, in 1855. The company continues to operate via it’s original base on North Parade, whilst now having further offices across the county in Billingshurst, Crawley, and Hurstpierpoint. As an independent business, the organisation is built on a number of values, including supporting the surrounding communities as much as possible. This week, Community Co-Ordinator Becky joined local charity Horsham Matters in a quest to Pedal Against Poverty…
Thanks largely to a certain footballer, food banks took a prominent position in the headlines last year. Prior to the pandemic, food poverty was already a problem in the UK, and with rising unemployment, people being on extended furlough, and all of us spending more time at home, the situation has only worsened.
Horsham Matters had originally organised a fundraising static cycle in 2020, and it unfortunately had to be cancelled as the pandemic took hold. When I found out that it had been reorganised for this month, I knew immediately that I wanted to help, even though I’m far from a cardio lover!
The event this time was particularly to raise funds in order to support children and families during the summer holidays. This can be an incredibly difficult time for many people – with children not at school, there is a gap for some in the support they receive both emotionally and practically, and pressure on parents is high. With many having to take time off work, either paid or unpaid, sourcing food can be a struggle, and the food banks are heavily relied upon for help during this period.
It’s also not known how much the situation for those who struggle financially may be impacted by Brexit this summer. Supply chains have been challenging since the start of the pandemic – with activities limited to whatever we can do at home, and the necessity for many to set up home schools and offices, various household items have been difficult to get hold of at several points (the latest have been tents and children’s toys, as so many people have committed to UK-based holidays this year). The early panic-buying of food had a huge impact on those who suffer from food poverty: whilst shelves were emptied of even those items which ordinarily get left behind, awareness was raised of how much many people actually rely upon things such as tinned goods, or products which have a long shelf-life. This then put additional pressure on food bank services, at a time when schools were closed to the majority of pupils, and families were therefore under increased strain at home.
Between April 2019 and December 2020, Horsham Matters provided 10,000 emergency food parcels to those who needed them. They have also provided assistance with emergency top ups for gas and electricity meters, plus furniture for those who are unable to purchase their own.
I and many others grew up in an incredibly privileged position – I’ve never gone hungry, I’ve never been without a safe bed to sleep in, and I’ve never been part of a household which hasn’t been able to pay an energy bill. I find it shocking that people have to live in these conditions, particularly at a time when we’ve relied upon our homes more than ever, having been required to stay in them due to the pandemic.
The issue of food poverty was also well-highlighted by EastEnders a few years ago: the show demonstrated via the character of Denise how easy it can sadly be to fall into such circumstances – having quit her job, and whilst attempting to improve her self-esteem by sitting GCSE exams as an adult, she was embarrassed by her situation and didn’t feel able to ask for help. The situation culminated with her suffering from malnutrition to the extent that she passed out whilst sitting her important exam, leading to friends and family discovering the truth.
I found Diane Parish’s 2017 portrayal of the storyline to be incredibly moving, and how the impacts of genuine hunger were depicted were shocking. Having a better understanding of how such things can happen changed my thinking, as did reports from residents of Grenfell Tower a short time later. When they were temporarily rehoused following the disaster, several shared the realities of their new accommodation – many people assumed that they were living a great life thanks to being placed in hotel rooms, but the truth was very different.
Hotel rooms don’t include kitchen facilities, and eating out or via takeaway services constantly is expensive. People were limited to consuming what could be eaten without preparation, or only required a kettle or a microwave. When given these parameters, most of us are aware of how limited the options are, as well as the fact that meals then don’t tend to be nutritionally-balanced. Hotel accommodation also generally lacks refrigeration space these days, so fresh food cannot be safely stored either.
These are the kind of situations that many of us are blissfully unaware of, as it is not part of our lived experience. Learning the variety of reasons for food poverty is therefore critical, so that we can empathise and help to solve the problem – the situations stated previously are part of the reason that food banks make specific requests for donations as, unfortunately, many people who need their help are not in a position to store or prepare certain foods. It is not that they don’t want to, more that they are simply not able to.
All of this brings me to why I was more than happy to help Horsham Matters. In addition to being able to take on an accessible fitness challenge (which is another story – so many are sadly not inclusive), I was also part of an actual event! As an event manager, the pandemic has been crushing – I’ve been incredibly fortunate, but I’ve also watched as many friends and colleagues in the wider industry have had their passion dismantled.
Horsham Matters had set up their static bikes outdoors to ensure the very best ventilation. They were also cleaning the bikes carefully between uses, and asking people to book a slot to minimise social contact. I’m proud to say that I managed to cycle 10km in 31 minutes – for someone who usually grudgingly spends five minutes on a bike to warm up before lifting weights, this was a significant achievement!
My sponsorship page is still open for donations – please do add some funds and share the link if you are able. As an added incentive, I have pledged to purchase an item of food to donate for each unique sponsor who supports my fundraising, whether they donate £2 or £20, I will still be adding donated goods.