Lewisham Donation Hub able to reopen

Volunteers were told the donation hub didn’t meet the criteria for an essential service.
Pic: Peter Reali

A donation hub in Lewisham that helps people struggling the most through lockdown reopened on February 16, 2021, after a public outcry.

A petition in response to the closure of Lewisham Donation Hub (LDH) on February 11 gained over 4,000 signatures. 

Councillor Kevin Bonavia became a key player to help the voluntary organisation, which is situated on Lewisham High street, reopen by creating a risk assessment plan.   

‘It’s good to be back’ 

The hub reopened with seven new automatic hand sanitisers, covid safety guidance, a traffic cone system and multilingual signs to help support against language barriers. 

They also welcomed a new refugee volunteer to their team of over 50. 

The LDH supports the homeless, refugees and others in the community facing hardship through clothes, toiletries, toys, books, and electronics. Since reopening, they have supported Lewisham Hospital and have launched the ‘Free Food Friday’ initiative. 

The organisation had to turn away families seeking winter clothes and coats during the five-day closure.
Pic: Omik Sovsky

‘Everything is essential when you have nothing’   

In a letter to the local council the founder of the charity, Laurence Smith, said: “I am mortified that your officers and the police are having to implement laws that are so asymmetrical and that seem to be framed by people who clearly have no real understanding of the daily reality of the most vulnerable people in society. 

“Those without devices or money cannot Amazon Prime their way through the pandemic…yet the legislation behaves as if they can. The definition of ‘non-essential’ is also clearly created by people who are surrounded by everything.

“When you have nothing, almost EVERYTHING is essential! The legislation must surely begin to reflect that reality…otherwise we risk turning the Covid crisis into an even bigger one involving failing mental health and crushing poverty.”

Covid regulations mean that only organisations providing at least 60% of food donations are deemed as essential. Due to the law, only food, laptops, nappies and sanitary products could be offered.  

A supporter, who signed the petition, said: “If this is not essential we have really lost touch with reality.” 

The team initially explored avenues that would allow them to stay open but in a different format.

Along with extensive food bank donation and distribution points across Lewisham, winter clothes, shoes, home goods, furniture and electricals were also in great demand.  

Lewisham has five official foodbank centres.
Pic: Gabriel Michael

Volunteers were able to help at the same location, under the charity Community Connections Lewisham (CCL) rather than Lewisham Donation Hub when the hub had to close for five days.

The CCL project has been running for four years and hands out a majority of food packages and meals allowing them to also donate a smaller proportion of coats to those who need them particularly during the recent cold weather. 

LDH has only been running for six months, using Place Ladywell to support the community by taking a range of donations every Sunday afternoon to be redistributed. 

‘Supermarkets open, Our hub closed’ 

In an emotional video announcing the closure on February 11 because of the lockdown rules, the charity organisation explained the frustrating circumstances relating to COVID-19 regulations, whilst showing the extensive amounts of donations they had stored and were unable to hand out.

The video which gained a large amount of attention on social media has over 19.5 thousand views and over 200 comments as of February 20.

MP Vicky Foxcroft and Jamie Moreland, a reporter for BBC London visited the hub to gain insight into the problems faced and the type of people being turned away during the closure.

LDH mainly operates from its outdoor area and feels there is one rule for retailers but another for them.
Pic: Alex Potemkin

In a Facebook post, LDH said: “ Whilst we operate under the same legal framework as major retailers, the way things are enforced is very different. Any issue our council has with a major retailer must be forwarded to that retailers ‘home’ council.

“Those council’s are frequently funded and lobbied by those retailers to give the right outcomes….which perhaps explains why the UK is suffering so much from Covid (and why supermarkets are such a major vector of transmission and threat to your well-being).”

Help for those in hardship 

A report by the British Red Cross showed that two groups have been hardest hit by the pandemic.

 The first group is a “newly vulnerable” group of those who haven’t needed to reach out for support ever before. They are unsure of where to turn to, struggle with stigma and do not know how to access support. The second was found to be those struggling before the pandemic and are now “on the brink”, facing choices between essentials such as food, heating or clothing for their children.  

The Longest Year report also showed that support from charities and assistance schemes for the most vulnerable in England was at risk after the tiered system was introduced. 

British Red Cross calls on the government to work with the voluntary and community sector.
Pic : Paco Freire

The British Red Cross, which polled over 2,000 people, stated in the report: “Many feel that formal and informal support, such as emergency food parcels, community initiatives as well as support from friends, family and neighbours, decreased during local restrictions.”

Whilst the LDH has been able to reopen they fear this move being challenged at a higher level.

In an online post, they said: “There is a chance that Lewisham Council will have to defend that decision to those in Parliament that have created these asymmetric laws that punish projects like ours. They will perhaps need our support…but we can hopefully avoid that outcome by absolutely smashing that petition!” 

You can sign the petition to show support here.  

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