Columns for Exmouth Journal - 2021

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COLUMN for Exmouth Journal ..... to print 25th Feb 2021

Food Banks are a long term issue

One certainty in these troubled times is the need for Food Banks!! The first lockdown in 2020 created a surge in people volunteering and a surge in demand from people who could not get supplies matched by a surge in donations; meanwhile volunteers over 70 had to step back leaving new recruits to man the fort led by a few younger previous volunteers.

Changing the name to "Exmouth Food Bank" was agreed on 28th August 2019, but delayed while documents were finalised; in March 2020 the Coronavirus hit. The change is now being about to be implemented with a much improved website. Looking into the future causes us to look back into the past in order to grasp the overall picture.

Food emergencies are not new - there have been hungry people needing help from time immemorial. Those who go back to WWII and rationing remember help being provided within each community. People who had enough shared with those that did not. The Gospels remind us "the poor are always with us"!!

In 2009 in Exmouth, Rev'd John Graver, Minister of Christ Church, filled a spare room in the manse with food for needy families. Supplies came from Harvest Festivals and elsewhere; at one point John highlighted the need for toilet rolls; someone had to make an artistic display for the Festival entirely of toilet rolls!! I thought it was an exaggeration, until someone said "yes - it was me É.. I remember doing it!".

Tim Davies had started gathering tins in his garage and distributing them to needy families in Brixington. Tim's father had run a food bank in Chepstow and retired to live in Torquay, and so contributed to some of the early Exmouth planning meetings.

Tim recalls ""While distributing food around Brixington, I wrote the business plan for the Community Larder, which was the foundation. This was presented to Rev'd Simon Atkinson who floated the plan to Christians Together (CTE). The call went out for a manager; Anthony Bernard stepped forward and has carried the torch faithfully ever since.""

Tim became part of the founding group managing the stockroom, Chris Barker-Bey organised dealings with clients, Major Steve Watson of the Salvation Army did something of everything; Anthony's role was to maintain an overall direction. Rev'd Ian Pusey, a retired minister at Holy Trinity, had run a food bank in his previous parish since 1990, serving 45-50 people a week, referred by social services or other agencies. Ian was a key advisor in early discussions, participating in the formal meeting which set up the structure of the Exmouth Community Larder in November 2012.

The Trussel Trust set up its first food bank in 2000 in Salisbury. This went on to create a national food bank movement, with an organised structure and paid staff, supported from donations and a franchise fee for using their organisational material, which now runs to 1200 food banks affiliated. This made big news, but was 10 years behind Rev'd Pusey and others; it was not the start of food banks or of the need, but did create an impetus!!

The ethos of providing help in a food emergency continues, as does the need to guide people to seek help with their underlying crisis. Thanks to the generosity of the whole of greater Exmouth Community there are currently plenty of volunteers and donations.

The new committee, with a freshly updated website and the experience of the huge surge and peaks of 2020, look forward to the challenges of 2021 and beyond.

COLUMN for Exmouth Journal ...... to print 11th February 2021

Supporting people in difficulties

Difficulties are all around us, and are there to be overcome! The more difficult difficulties need some help and support from others - providing support as a community is always our challenge but never more than in this present crisis! For some there is help within a family, but many need to reach out to others. In fact some problems are best helped by strangers, with whom there is no element of criticism or judgment based on past perceptions.

Difficulties have a way of compounding; money problems lead to debts and to high interest loans; problems cause upset, anger, the hurting of friends and the breakdown of relationships. Tensions often lead to depression, anxiety and more complex mental health issues and worst of all to drink! I am amazed watching old films how often a character with a problem needs a whisky - even in the wild west this didn't help to think straight or shoot straight!! We have all of us experienced it, but hopefully only to a mild extent.

Food bank help becomes vital when the rent and other essential outgoings take all the available money, so in the Community Larder we see these problems. At the start of the lockdown food was delivered to anyone who asked, including those just isolating. Shops and delivery services, including volunteers, have now adapted to this new world, so people with underlying problems come to the fore once more.

In our complex world these underlying problems usually need some expertise, whether sorting out Universal Credit obtaining legal advice or just a cool head for a balanced discussion; that is what the Citizens Advice Centres are set up to provide. At the start of the crisis last April, like the food bank, they had to change their way of working, but now their services are available on the phones and online 5 days per week; clients can ring or email to leave their details for CitA to call back 24 hours a day.

Citizens Advice East Devon is an independent charity and part of the National Citizens Advice network, providing free, conŽdential and impartial advice. They deal not just with the immediate issue helping the client to look for advice, but with the underlying issues as well. This means that they are able to help in both the short and the longer term, enabling clients to move forward from difficult situations.

Advice and assistance is available on Universal Credit, Debts & Money, Benefits, Personal Advice, Housing, Consumer Advice, Legal Advice, Redundancy & Employment and Disability Benefits. Last year Citizens Advice East Devon helped over 5,000 local people to access the help they needed, dealing with over 12,500 issues which cover a broad spectrum of advice needs. CitA helped clients achieve income gains of £2.5 million in 2019-20, and gains of £1.8 million so far in 2020-21.

With so many people displaced from previously stable and regular jobs there are many situations where family income is reduced with a need to adjust. There may be long term contracts, lease agreements and other outgoings which cannot be reduced until contracts run out, and of course the rent must be paid! There are even landlords trying to raise rents because of high demand from people wishing to escape the London area. In the midst of a majority supporting others, there are always a few trying to take advantage!!

Call CitA on 01395 265070; email enquiries@citizensadviceeastdevon.org; Text Advice 82727, website: www.citizensadviceeastdevon.org .... or contact via Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or LinkedIn.

COLUMN for Exmouth Journal ...... to print 27th January 2021

Bridging the digital learning divide

Schooling is a prized resource in the developing world, next after food and shelter.. Education was taken for granted in our cosy world, along with clean water, reliable electricity and many other things, before the coronavirus upturned things last March.

Hungry children don't learn well, so school meals are in the news, but hopefully the Community Larder is providing sufficient help locally - certainly the ratio of families to individuals has increased.

"Children learning at home need devices" says Emma Jones, head teacher at Withycombe Primary School, who went on to say..... " The DFE provided us with 5 ipads for vulnerable children - we are a school of 630 children so these 5 ipads don't go very far. We also have the added issue of families with 1 device but 3 or 4 children all trying to access online learning in the day. We are all just trying to do our best with the resources we have. Teachers are doing a fantastic job juggling teaching children in school plus teaching children at home ..... very challenging as I am sure you can imagine."

Nicky Taylor-Bashford of St Joseph's Primary School added : "Teachers and parents are all doing an amazing job, under very difficult circumstances. The news often refers to schools being closed - we are definitely not closed! Teachers continue to put the school children first before their own families and their own anxieties. They continue to teach all day in class whilst now also trying to teach and engage children remotely. Parents are trying to support their own children's learning, often whilst juggling working from home and caring for other family members. The lack of devices in many family homes makes these difficult circumstances even harder. The DfE have provided us with a very small quantity of devices to loan out to parents. Whave been able to lend out some chrome books, but there are still families across the community managing with one device between siblings and sometimes that device is just a phone. Everyone is doing the very best they can with the resources they have but more needs to be done. We should be doing everything we can to close the divide between 'those that have and can and those that haven't and can't'. At the moment that divide is widening - unless action is taken."

So what should we do about it? Giving all children a start in life to learn and to develop an inquiring mind is very important for the whole of society for the long term. There should be no barriers!! To endorse the point there are many instances of brilliant contributors in the world having had very poor beginnings. We would all be poorer without their contribution.

Optimists think we will be out of problems soon - but social distancing and home schooling may be with us for a while. Realists can also see that higher education could continue distance learning having established how it works - it could be here to stay!! We want ALL children to have a long term opportunity!

A fund has been established to enable devices to be given to schools for their most needy families. Email to "enquiries@citizensadviceeastdevon.org" for details of how to donate. Families needing help should contact their school head teacher or Citizens Advice. This has been started with an initial donation of £1,000 which will not go far; more funds or used laptops are badly and urgently needed!!

COLUMN for Exmouth Journal ...... to print 13th January 2021

New year, new lockdown!!

"Good King Wenceslaus" seems to have gone out of favour since my youth! The carol describes how he went out on the feast of Stephen, the day after Christmas, to find and help the poor - King Wenceslaus should be patron saint of Foodbanks!! The rush of donations before Christmas is subsiding, but the need continues and will no doubt increase. Much help is needed, so THANKS for continued support!!

The Exmouth Community Larder worked continuously throughout 2020; 2,315 packages given out, to feed 4,837 people, approximately 58,044 meals!! King Wencelaus' Page in verse two would have been proud! All derived from generous donations from the whole of the wider community. The new lockdown will increase demand at a time when donations usually trail off.

The "Three Kings of Orient ƒ." has also been superseded by more modern words and music. Their part in the Nativity story is a reminder that Jesus came to all peoples from all over the world. My own fantasy is that the three kings came from Korea, whose history 2,000 years ago was in a period known as the "Three Kingdoms".

The message today is that that there are peoples all over the world with shortages of food, clothing and shelter. Our community is wonderfully supporting the needy locally, but the whole world is in trouble while our own news is focussed on our own difficulties. Maybe, money put aside for cancelled cruises and foreign holidays can be used to support overseas aid?? My own preference is for those charities that have their own people on the ground, CAFOD, the Salvation Army and others, avoiding the need for middlemen.

Meanwhile, It is good news that it was our scientists who identified the new strain of the Covid19 virus, and good news that they are world leaders in this field. The bad news is that more mischievous strains may evolve if the virus can mutate again. At least British science will be among the first to recognise changes and assess the consequences.

Recent events have been likened to Ancient Biblical plagues - even the Plague of Frogs, in Exodus chapter 8, has been blamed over the hold-up of lorries at Dover over Christmas! For lighter reading, there is HG Wells' "The War of the Worlds", in which the aliens were unstoppable until they all fell ill from some virus and died - "and so the Earth was saved by a virus, one of its least creatures" - or so I remember the narration from the film!!

We can take any quotation to suit whatever point we wish to make. The reality is that there is a huge problem, but within the problem we can find solutions that have been missed. Most people have become more considerate of others; the slow down in travel is lowering carbon emissions; there is good news among the difficulties if we look for it.

The gap between people in trouble and not in trouble has been highlighted by the increased need in Foodbanks. To classify people as "disadvantaged" or "affluent" is wrong; there is nothing permanent about either group. People have lost jobs in one sector and found better jobs elsewhere; people who had really good situations are suddenly in trouble! The objective of the Community Larder is to give food help where it is needed locally!! For more complex issues, the Citizens Advice centre is available, on line or by phone.