Market Town : The Peoples’ Picnic : Citizens feeding Citizens
Josie (Karen’s daughter) preparing sandwiches ahead of handing them out later that evening.
Recent years have seen a dramatic rise in homelessness, usage of food banks tripling in twelve months, the bedroom tax and changes to the benefits system all conspiring to make life harder and harder for so many of our society. Karen, herself on health related benefits, created the citizen run project ‘The Peoples’ Picnic‘ with friends, banding together to distribute donated food to the communities homeless and needy.
Karen, founder of The People’s Picnic.
“We’d gone to the Bedroom Tax protest in the city center and afterwards as we walked back we noticed a group of homeless people being handed soup at a stand in the Haymarket (A public meeting point in the center of Norwich) and their image stayed with me. When we got home we got to talking about it, how hard it must be to go without food on a regular basis and we decided we were going to do something about it.”
“The following weekend we made about forty sandwiches and headed up to the Haymarket to hand them out and they were all gone within ten minutes. Dale and I had thought we would have to stand outside in the cold, it was snowing, and wait for hours to hand them out but we were swamped by hungry people.”
Phoenix (Josie’s daughter) eating a sandwich that she helped make whilst the other women prepare the food to be taken to the city later that evening.
“After that first time I knew this was something I had to commit to, it was more than just handing out sandwiches, we’d already formed bonds with the people coming to meet us for the food.”
“As the weeks have passed the bonds have grown deeper. You talk more, learn more about why the people coming are in the difficulties they are in, about their lives, like this evening, one of the regulars that comes, it’s his birthday so we’ve made a cake and we’ll take that up for him with a pair of warm socks, someone else was desperate for some dog food, so we’ll take that. All these little things make such a difference, a personal touch.”
Sandwiches packed and ready to be handed out.
A full tray of donated cooked sausages.
Laura bagging up sandwiches for that evenings trip to the city.
The week is spent collecting donations of ingredients, word spread using social media. Karen and a team of volunteers prepare and package all the food in her kitchen.
“It’s been really good for everyone concerned, there’s such a good feeling about it all, not just the people we are trying to help and not just for myself, everyone donating feels good.”
“We have people on the dole (Social Security) who donate a loaf of bread every week and it’s helping them feel good, as though they can and are making a real difference to the peoples lives around them.”
“It’s really all about normal people taking the chance, making the opportunity to care for the wider community around them, not relying on big companies to do something or as is evidently the case to not do anything about these things. It’s for people that can’t afford to donate money regularly to a charity.”
“We really see it as a way of enabling the community, any community not just ours, and helping together those around us. For everyone to have an opportunity to be proactive, to donate food, to help make the food, to help share it out, even if a donation is just a loaf of value bread it makes a hell of a difference, I can tell whomever made that donation “That loaf of bread you donated went on to help feed twelve people this evening!” and it ends up making everyone feeling that little bit better about themselves and these days we can all do with a little of that!.”
Twice a week the Peoples’ Picnic make the journey to Norwich to hand the food out at a stand in the Haymarket meeting space in the heart of the city.
“A large number of the cities homeless have a ‘spot’, a place where they stay with all their belongings, their sleeping bag, a bag of clothes. They don’t all like to leave that place at once. Awful things can and often do happen at night, especially after the pubs and clubs shut. They get urinated on, hassled, attacked even, it’s better if two, three or more people stay out together, so one might come along and collect some food for everyone, so we make sure we have a nice selection and package and label everything up and provide a bag to carry it all in.”
Currently in the United Kingdom every fifteen minutes another family find themselves homeless.*
Tommo, a regular at the Peoples’ Picnic stall shares his tattoos.
Karen listening to Tommo. As well as sharing the donated food, affording the people that arrive at the stall a chance to be heard is a core element of the groups endeavors.
A lost dog belonging to one of the outdoor homeless is looked after until their owner arrives and they are reunited.
Dale, one of the co-founders of the Peoples’ Picnic feeding a lost homeless dog.
“The crippling cost of housing, combined with rising prices, flatlining wages and cuts to housing support, is meaning many families are simply no longer able to hold on to the roof over their heads. We are extremely worried that people already feeling the squeeze because of the recession and benefit reductions will increasingly struggle”**
*Sharp rise in number of homeless families” Shelter 22 March, 2013
**Shelter’s Chief Executive Campbell Robb, March, 2013