“‘It’s not easy asking for help or accepting help sometimes.” This has been made all too real for families across Harrow over the last year. The feeling of not being able to put a meal on your child’s plate in the evening. It is an experience that no parent or child should have to go through.

It would be easy to blame the pandemic for the food poverty we are seeing in our community. COVID-19, having damaged so many other things, is an easy explanation for the hunger that many of our children have been experiencing. Often, it can be easier to blame this seemingly random disaster, than it is to look at the problems that were already there. Of course, the virus has exacerbated things, but it has only served to stretch apart the cracks that were already showing.

If you look at the statistics before the first lockdown, you quickly find that food poverty is not a new problem. 32% of jobs in Harrow paid below London living wage in 2019, and yet the cost of living was 30% higher than the national average. If you look at housing prices you see they’ve tripled over the last 20 years, yet wages have barely increased.

The stereotype that food poverty only happens in the homes of the unemployed is a myth. Two thirds of the children living in poverty have at least one working parent. Imagine the cost of living as a bar you have to get over to provide for your family. The higher the bar, the more people are left on the ground.

The reality of the situation? Over 1,000 children in Harrow needed Foodbank support before the pandemic hit. There was a 24% increase from 2018 to 2019. This is not a new problem by any means. But it has been made worse by the pandemic, and specifically by school holidays.

The HelpHarrow website was set up to answer this need. In the initial lockdown it was created to support families unable to purchase food for themselves, delivering groceries to doorways across the borough. It has since expanded and continues to grow in providing support for mental health, unemployment, carers and more.

But for many parents, the school holidays still bring a feeling of dread. We talked to a local Harrow parent last week who talked about the difficulties of the holiday period:

“You kind of feel like you’re failing on all levels. You’re not able to do a day’s work properly, but you’re not able to look after your children properly either. [...] You can’t dedicate a day to playing with them or watching a movie or taking them out somewhere or even doing stuff in the garden because you have to work.”

For some, there is then the added pressure of providing an extra meal everyday. Where does that money come from for that? Where do you find the time? It’s difficult.

But this year, we’re working to change that.

What Harrow’s Doing

With funding from the Department for Education (DFE), Harrow has become one of the first boroughs in London to set up a Holiday Activities and Food (HAF) programme. Young Harrow Foundation and Harrow Council are supporting and funding local organisations to run free activity days across the Easter break, Summer and Christmas, each providing free nutritious meals.

This Easter, through 12 organisations, we will be seeing Graffiti, cooking, football, yoga, art, dance, rugby, and many more. All for free. All with food.

These organisations are giving young people something fresh this Easter. A new skill, a chance to run around outside with a group of kids their own age. And a key part of it is the fresh, nutritious meals provided for each and every child.

One example is Harrow Carers who are running a drumming workshop and scout camp visit for young carers who normally miss out on opportunities like this. For one family in Harrow, their son spends much of his time caring for his twin brother. Their mother told us that a typical day out for them would be a family visit to Great Ormond Street Hospital.

“He misses out on a lot of things because we can’t physically get him to places. He doesn’t really get invited round to other children’s houses and it’s difficult for them to come here.

So something like the activities that Harrow Carers are running, specifically for him, where he can take part in activities he’d normally miss out on and socialise with other children his age... It’s a bit of a lifeline really.”

For other families, the peace of mind knowing that their children will be fed properly over the Easter break is the most important thing.



Looking Ahead

The HAF programme in its current form has limited capacity. The 12 brilliant organisations involved are acting as pilot programmes. There are many homes still to reach.

That is why we are planning to expand this programme for the summer, when holiday hunger is at its most prevalent. Even with national restrictions easing, it will be a long road for some of the families hit the hardest. That is why we are looking for the support of the local community in expanding this project.

We want more organisations involved, more places open for young people, more meals provided, greater awareness, better outreach to those most vulnerable, better resources for parents and guardians.

Of course, there is a financial cost to running these programs. While the Department for Education is able to fund these programmes for young people on free school meals, some of the families hit hardest by the virus fail to qualify for those meals.

It costs £4 per young person per day to give these young people a day full of activities and a free meal. For the HAF programme to really make an impact, we need to reach as many children and young people as we can. So we would encourage you to donate what you can at the link below.

https://bit.ly/3fhz1OH

This is not an issue that will go away overnight, and neither will we. So if you can support us in making any of the above happen, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Let’s use this momentum to end food poverty in Harrow once and for all.

To find out more about the programmes being run click the link below

https://youngharrowfoundation.org/haf-programme

We would like to extend a special thanks to every organisation that has supported or run these programmes so far.

Especially: Watford Football Club’s Community Sports and Education Trust; Woodland Adventure Forest School Harrow; My Yard; Harrow Carers; Home Group; Premier Education; Magna Groups; Eden Academy Trust; Primary Sporting Development; Steps 2 Success; Hope; Centre for ADHD & Autism Support (CAAS); Harrow Council, Department for Education