Reflecting on #BrumTogether

#BrumTogether is a network of over 80 organisations and countless individuals that have come together in response to Coronavirus and the lockdown. This network of local organisations and mutual aid groups have worked together to provide support for local people including the delivery of food parcels, hygiene products, baby supplies, as well as clothing and household items, virtual activities and a listening phone service. The network is as diverse as the communities it is serves, working with partners including TRJFP Brum, Urban Devotion and Saheli Hub. To date over 60,000 food parcels have been delivered, almost 20,000 hot meals have been cooked and over 1,200 bulk food orders have been given to other organisations to share essential items in their local areas.

Space, time and supplies have been donated by partners, including the Aston Villa Foundation using their kitchens to cook hot meals and turning other areas into a clothing distribution centre. Meanwhile, Aston University’s Students’ Union building transformed into a dedicated #BrumTogether food distribution centre. As well as helping people in need, volunteers have also become part of a big community and it is this sense of solidarity that has been an important way of connecting with others during lockdown for volunteers such as Basma Elbakary;  

‘I quite like the community feeling you get from volunteering. I mean why wouldn’t I get involved with a place that is very accepting and diverse, which does a lot of good to many communities within Birmingham.’

Volunteers have been integral to the #BrumTogether food distribution network by helping with sorting, packing, and delivering food parcels to people in need, all over Birmingham. There are over 1300 volunteers involved in the food distribution network and many more who support other projects such as the Befriending Phone Service. For David and Jane, volunteering has been an exciting and rewarding experience;

‘Our first day came as something of a shock! We had emerged almost straight from the bubble of two weeks’ self-isolation, so arriving at Ladywood Community Centre for the first time felt almost like entering a war zone, in terms of the intensity of purpose, the number of people and the scale of the logistics!  However, everyone was friendly and helpful, and there was a real spirit of “we’re all in this new thing together, so let’s find a way of doing it well”.

The #BrumTogether network in its entirety has been important to our community, particularly those that were without access to food and essential supplies. It has proven that in the face of crisis, our city is able to respond to the needs of its people and come together to pool resources in order to support the community. Kokni Muslim Association Birmingham (KMAB) have been helping to process, pack and distribute food parcels to those in need as part of #BrumTogether. They have now distributed over 1500 food parcels to the community of Birmingham.

‘What has been demonstrated during the Covid-19 crisis is the community spirit, cohesion and collaboration which has been fabulous. It is heart-warming to see the generosity of people, and the willingness to help others… When we come out of this, the positivity and goodness created will live well beyond.’

Many partners have also offered weekly support sessions, delivered online with the aim to encourage social interaction and connection between people in an effort to boost their emotional wellbeing and mental health. Fauzia Begum from Witton Lodge shared;

‘They can be a very effective source of support by helping people to learn how to stay motivated. They are also useful in getting people to share their feelings more openly in order to overcome any worries or fears and gain hope and control’.

As we navigate the next phase of the lockdown it is useful to visualise what the future might look like. #BrumTogether has shown that there are many people living on the poverty line and their needs have had to be met with this temporary emergency response however this is not a real solution to the problem. We must change the system that makes people go hungry in the first place. Salma Hamid, a community organiser and co-chair of Nisa-Nashim West Midlands;

 ‘What hasn’t surprised or shocked me is Birmingham’s reaction to this crisis. In a matter of days voluntary, community, faith and charity groups planned, organised and implemented support services to help the most vulnerable in our city. Hundreds of thoughtful volunteers have prepared food parcels, cooked meals and delivered groceries to weary households to ensure no one was left to struggle alone. Brummies have been brilliant!

It is clear that the strong collaborations and partnerships across the city have enabled the success of the #BrumTogether collective. But what can we do differently in the future and what can we learn from the #BrumTogether response? Covid-19 has forced us to make many changes to the way we live. As we move forward towards recovery, we need to think about how we can work together to address food poverty, so that nobody in our city has to go hungry but also how we can continue to ensure the wellbeing of our communities both physically and mentally. This pandemic is not yet over and the needs of our communities remain high so we must continue to work together for as long as it takes.

For the full list of partners and local organisations that have helped to make #BrumTogether happen, head to our Partner Directory.

Nafeesa Arshad
Author: Nafeesa Arshad