Tamiyah Barbour, nine, and her mother Jessica Edwards, 31, were watching their third or fourth news report from a Covid ward when they felt the urge to do something. “We knew it was heartbreaking, we knew it was exhausting, but when you see the NHS nurses talk about how it’s actually impacting their lives, that was it for me,” says Edwards.
They started their NHS chocolate campaign in mid-January with their local hospital, St George’s in Tooting. “Me and my daughter were going to donate 50 chocolate bars with individual uplifting messages so it would feel personal to whoever received them.” Edwards’ chocolate business, TrufflezNTreatz, provided the opportunity to facilitate this gesture. “They were just like little kids. A picture can give you an idea but actually being there and seeing them happy is priceless”, she says. After witnessing the impact it had on staff who received them, she decided to think bigger.
“I had this idea to see if anybody in the community wanted to get involved, whether that be 10, 15 people, it would provide more chocolate than I can personally donate.” Members of the community can buy one of these chocolate bars and add a personal message to NHS staff, with all profits going directly towards the production cost of the bars. The project took off from there, meaning they were able to donate 400 personalised chocolate bars to NHS staff across three hospitals in just the first week of their campaign.
In times of crisis, chocolate is what Edwards turns to. “Chocolate is my comfort,” she says. Being able to share this comfort with those who need it most has provided Tamiyah and Edwards with an outlet for the anxiety that comes with living through a pandemic. “It’s become my new best friend. I mean I’ve put on a stone and a half, but it’s my new best friend.”
With family and friends based in Croydon, Edwards and her daughter were well acquainted with Croydon University Hospital. Beyond personal ties to the area, Edwards recalled the hospital being one of the worst hit at the beginning of the pandemic. The exceptional response from the community meant that they were able to provide staff at the hospital with 110 chocolate bars.
‘You don’t need blood to have support’
Community is at the heart of this project, and it comes through in everything Edwards says. Undertaking this project with her daughter has given her the opportunity to show her how people are struggling currently, while also teaching her the importance and strength of community through difficult times. “I felt alone most of my life, so it’s important for my daughter to know that you don’t need blood to have support.”
In December 2019, Edwards found this sense of community in the NHS. Heavily pregnant with her third child she began fainting regularly, and discovered she had a congenital heart condition, meaning weeks spent in hospital. “For me, it was the scariest part of my life and yet when my children couldn’t be there, I never felt alone, ever.”
“The nurses and the doctors, they were like mums and dads, they became family even though they were strangers.” This has stuck with her ever since. “I just imagine how they’re doing the same for Covid patients even though they’re so exhausted”, she says. “In my case it was a normal shift, they go to work, do their job and go home, so to still do what they did for me in such extreme circumstances really means a lot.”
The project has shown how community -– and chocolate -– can come together to support the NHS when “Thank you” doesn’t feel sufficient. “The response has been more than we ever could have asked for” says Edwards. “It started as one small impact on one Covid ward, and now hundreds of NHS staff in these wards have been given a smile for a moment.”
To get involved in the NHS Chocolate Bar Campaign, join the Facebook group here.