WHP organisations have been working throughout the Covid-19 pandemic to help as many people as possible get off the streets and into hotels and other accommodation. A critical part of supporting people during this time was providing food. Two of the WHP organisations, the Connection at St Martins’ and The Passage worked together to meet this need – providing a lifeline to those staying in hotels. We spoke to two people centrally involved in this scheme: Megan Coker, Head Chef at Connection at St Martins, and Claudette Dawkins, Head Chef at The Passage’s Resource Centre to find out more…
How did the project start?
Megan: I had just taken over as the Head Chef at Connections, providing breakfast and lunch for people who attend the day centre. When the lockdown hit, this all had to stop. There was immediately a rush to get clients into hotels. The government were very keen and we placed 80 people in hotels in the first ten hours! But we were worried about food. We only had a small kitchen and were not sure how would we get people food across a wide range of hotels.
So everyone started talking to each other. The Passage had a massive kitchen and big halls so we agreed that they would lead the food distribution. Our chefs went into The Passage kitchen and other staff were redeployed to help get things done.
Claudette: When lockdown hit, the Resource Centre was unable to see large numbers in the building and instead staff were supporting people to get off the streets and into accommodation quickly, and then supporting them once in that accommodation. Then the senior team said what about opening a food hub to help people in that emergency accommodation? We thought about how to get hot meals to people and decided the best idea was a hot meal in the evening with a snack bag with fruit, crisps, chocolate, cereal, milk, bread, cutlery, napkins, salt, pepper, mayo, jam. We had our own van and had additional support from companies who had vans they weren’t using.
We spoke to Connections and they said … their staff were able to get on board and help the whole project. Megan came over with about six others, they all helped out with the prep and whatever else was needed. And as others joined they took on a greater role. The project expanded and took over the whole floor of the day centre.
How busy was it?
Megan: Within the first month we were getting hot food to 300 clients every day. We had 15 volunteers working with The Passage and Connection staff to get food into boxes, then packed together into larger boxes to be collected by volunteer drivers and delivered to the hotels.
What was the outcome?
Claudette: I think it was a really positive thing. Some clients have very complex needs and struggled in the contained environment; having hot food delivered helped. Food meant that people stayed rather than leaving, and a good diet also helped people reduce harmful substance abuse. By the end of the Food Hub, we had prepared nearly 62,000 meals!
What worked and what didn’t?
Megan: The logistics were very complex, and communicating with clients about what they wanted was tricky, with every hotel different. And of course the overall environment of the pandemic, with changing and sometimes confusing messages from central government, added to the challenge. For our teams of staff and volunteers it was also a mental challenge; travelling in on the tube was strange when the messages were all about staying at home.
How important was it to join forces and work in this way rather than working as separate organisations?
Megan: It made complete sense to do it this way. There was no time to worry about inter organisational agendas or politics; people just got on with it. The Passage really led it but Connections made a difference and played a big part. On the ground everyone worked well together. It was just the natural thing to do; The Passage had the resources in place and it simply made sense to do it from there. It was good to work together. Barriers came down.
Claudette: We didn’t see it as “The Passage”; it was the Food Hub. And everyone came together with one purpose – to provide food for people in the hotels. So there were no organisational agendas and things just sort of fell into place. We had 20 volunteers, plus the connections staff; Megan headed up the cooking with my deputy and the other Connections staff just helped wherever they were needed. Everyone was very flexible. The team said they really enjoyed working with us. It was good to build new partnerships and friendships. We need to keep the lines of communication open and we are already in touch by text etc.
What did you learn about each other’s organisation?
Megan: Interesting to see how another organisation does things – especially food prep. But everything was unusual as the situation was unusual. It all just happened! There was no steering group or formal governance. Client needs were the priority and so there was no time to think about it too much! Although we didn’t have time to plan the partnership, it worked well.
Claudette: This was the first time that I have worked with other centres! I always wanted to but never had the time. Everyone just mucked in and although it was a serious and worrying situation, we had a laugh working together. It takes special people to work in this sector – and this proved it.
What lessons do you think we need to take away from this experience?
Megan: Working with other organisations and using each other’s resources – if someone has an excess resource we need to offer it around. We all need to be more forthcoming with offers and requests. And we must maintain the networks and relationships that have been built up so we can contact others much more easily.
Claudette: We had to make quick decisions and welcome new ideas. We just said: what is you want and then we went away and sorted it! Then we knew what we needed and get on with it – so given the resource and got on with it. And it is really interesting that the partnership work grew as the demand increased. We just followed the needs. The need was sudden and obvious – so we had to do something.