The ARC Centre was a thriving community hub until Covid-19 struck and the doors were shut two weeks before lockdown in March 2020. Thankfully, however, the charity’s creative director Damien Brown had the idea of turning the centre into a food bank – at a time when people were hoarding food and other food banks were closing.
Now, of course, Covid lockdowns are an increasingly distant memory and The ARC Centre’s doors are open again – but so too is the food bank, which continues to supply 100 households a week with food parcels to help local people through the cost of living crisis.
The Arsenal Foundation’s emergency Covid fund helped to get the food bank up and running in 2020, and we have since donated again to purchase supplies, so we caught up with two of The Arc Centre Food Bank’s volunteers, Ann Eady and Liz Judges, to find out how the money has helped at a time when donations are in decline and fresh food can be hard to find.
Pillars of the community
“I am 78 years old and was born in south Wales but have lived in north London since I was 18 and I love it!” says volunteer Ann Eady. She is thoroughly embedded in her local community, and has long been aware of the importance of contributing to it.
“I started married life in Linton Street, which is a stone’s throw from The ARC Centre, then moved to Englefield Road, and now as a widow I live in Aberdeen Park,” she says. “I trained as a nurse at The Royal Free Hospital and have gone on to work in two different specialities. I lived in Seattle for 16 months and also did voluntary work there, so it’s not something that’s new to me.”
Like many people who give up their time to help others, it was the Covid-19 pandemic that brought her back to volunteering when she found she had more time on her hands.
“I retired in 2015 because my husband needed more help at home, but then he died in 2017. I moved and settled in 2018, and then the pandemic happened. During Covid I responded to a local charity and collected and delivered food to hospital staff locally, mainly The Homerton. I also did some telephone work for NHS responders. It was my first Covid vaccination that took me to The ARC, and I saw the food bank that had recently started there. I joined as a volunteer in May 2021.”
Ann’s fellow volunteer Liz Judges has a similar story in that she wasn’t born in Islington but has long been a pillar of the community.
“I grew up on a farm in North Buckinghamshire but moved to London as soon as I could,” she says. “I live a couple of streets away from The ARC Centre and have lived in the same house for the last 30 years.
“I was introduced to the ARC food bank team by a friend who also lives locally. We had both been volunteering at Pack Up, a lunch club providing a weekly meal open to anyone in the neighbourhood. When Covid hit, Pack Up had to close so when I heard that a food bank had opened at the ARC and needed volunteers I was keen to help.”
“The food bank voluntary activities run over Monday and Tuesday every week and there are seven different shifts handling the various steps needed to distribute food to 100 local families,” says Liz.
“I lead the first shift of the week – the delivery shift made up of five to seven regular volunteers. We receive food from three main charities during Monday afternoon – City Harvest, Felix and Food Bank Aid. This can total about 100 crates of various things from fresh mangos to tins of potatoes, with totally random items thrown in such as cuttle fish ink or catering jars of pickled onions.
“We unload the food, check the quality and discard any food that’s out of date or that has gone off. Next we determine how to split the food received between the two distribution shifts that are held on Tuesdays.
“The work is like unpacking a massive supermarket shop and involves a lot of lifting and carrying, sorting, counting and labelling,” Liz adds. “As all the deliveries invariably arrive at the same time it can feel totally chaotic with crates and bags of unsorted food piled up all over the hall. However, by the end of shift, somehow all the food will be in labelled crates, split between the two distribution shifts and the list of items to go out that week compiled.”
Ann now works with Liz, and is well aware how important their deliveries are for people and families who are struggling financially.
“Initially I was doing deliveries, both on foot and by car,” she says. “I’m now part of the Monday morning sorting team, working with great colleagues to put together the deliveries we make. It’s busy and the waiting list has become longer as more people struggle with the cost of living. I am pleased to be a very small part of an organisation that provides help to local people – how sad it is that it’s necessary.
“The money Arsenal donated was spent on fruit and vegetables to top up the food donations we receive every week,” Ann says. “We’ve seen a reduction in fresh food donations because of increasing costs across the whole sector and increasing demand from food banks, and logistical challenges with fresh food. One of our core principles is that every household receives fresh fruit and veg every week, and we aim to provide a nutritionally balanced box of food.”
“We also aim to provide our families with food to cover three days each week, and occasionally household items,” adds Liz. “Once we have an idea of the amount of food that has been delivered, we add further items from our food store and work out what additional food needs to be bought by the early Tuesday morning shift. Most weeks we need to buy further fresh fruit and vegetables, plus bread and then possibly additional ambient food items. The charity deliveries vary considerably from week to week, so financial donations are important. They ensure that the 100 families who rely on the food bank and who we are able to help have enough food during those weeks when the deliveries fall short.”
Proud of the badge
“I feel very lucky to have Arsenal as my local team,” says Liz, who also feels that volunteering at the food bank has given her a stronger sense of community, as well as widening her circle of friends since she retired recently.
“Firstly Arsenal have provided my family years of enjoyment following the team – my children have both left home, but we meet most weeks during the season at The Beehive, a really welcoming community pub, to watch the game. Also I appreciate the work done by The Nelson Project creating safe spaces to play football, plus the other initiatives by other team members past and present. Arsenal does have an active presence in the community.”
Ann is an Arsenal fan too, and like so many local supporters is proud that the club plays such an important role in the local community.
“I have been an Arsenal supporter since my son, who is now 45, started to go to Highbury as a Junior Gunner. I now have a season ticket, which my grandson really enjoys – we share it!
“Arsenal is identified with Islington and I think it’s so important for the club to be part of its local community. We are sadly becoming more and more divided as a society, so if the club and its players show that they care and that they do contribute it can have a big impact on people’s lives, whether they are Arsenal fans or not. Money really helps, of course, but it’s also important that there’s an awareness from the club that it is at the heart of the community.”
Read The ARC Centre’s creative director Damien Brown on how the food bank started here
For more info or to make a donation visit thearccentre.org
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