Every Wednesday morning a team descends on the Holbeck club and the Slung Low foodbank springs into life.
As we’ve reported previously, when the pandemic hit last year, Slung Low redirected their theatrical skills from organising shows to running a foodbank for people in LS11 and beyond.
I’m proud to say that since Christmas I’ve been part of that team. We give up our time to pack food, or deliver it around South Leeds and beyond. At the moment we’re reaching over 200 households each week. Each crate has a week’s worth of food. Some weeks there is also an activity pack, advice leaflets or even a copy of this newspaper.
In return for our time, Slung Low gives a simple, but very tasty lunch supplied by Manjit’s Kitchen. Over lunch I spoke to some of the volunteers about why they do it.
There were some common themes: breaking the boredom of lockdown; meeting and chatting with others in person; and a sense of communality, working together for the common good. There was a feeling that whilst were are all happy to step in, people shouldn’t have to be relying on foodbanks. But let’s here from the volunteers themselves.
Photos by Tom Lukis
I started with friends Helena and Dee, who together with Dee’s husband come over from Roundhay. Dee tells be she got Covid last March and once she’d recovered, she was looking for something to do.
“I saw a message from Alan (Lane, artistic director at Slung Low) on Twitter saying they were short of drivers, so I came down and helped out and I’ve been coming back ever since.
“I think sometimes you don’t realise how much people are struggling. We’re very fortunate: mortgage paid, heating on, fridge full, and you get cocooned into this little world thinking lockdown’s not too bad. Actually, for an awful lot of people it is.”
“There is undoubtedly something really empowering about doing something collectively for somebody else. It sounds kind of corny but it’s true, it makes you feel better about yourself.”
Natalie is much more local, living in Holbeck. She asked her neighbour, Ruth Saxton who works for Slung Low, about volunteering jobs and came down to help at the foodbank.
“I’ve been doing it since last October and I’m still doing it. I look after my mum and dad pretty much full time and I’m home schooling my kids at the moment, so I kind of feel this is my thing, like a break. This is my chill time, it’s just on a Wednesday morning and I absolutely love it.”
John works in the arts and has known Slung Low for years. He’s another that answered the Tweet calling for drivers.
“I’m freelance so although I’ve been lucky enough to work through most of the year, I can take time to volunteer here. It’s good, I enjoy getting out of the house.”
Alex found out through his girlfriend who has worked with Slung Low. He’s not working at the moment and said:
“I’ve got free time and a car so when I heard they were looking for drivers I got in touch. It’s been really good, I really enjoy it and it’s something to do on a Wednesday.”
John tells me he enjoys the little conversations on the doorstep.
“I always try to spark some short conversation. I always ask how they are, then it might just be something about Leeds United, or the weather, or how bored everyone is, it just starts something. I like to see how much warmth I can give with the small amount of face you can see above the mask.”
Alex adds: “When there are kids (in the house) they get really excited about the food coming, that’s nice.”
Abi, a chef on furlough, lives a ten minute bike ride away in the city centre. She’s part of the packing team.
“I like it, I always like things that bring all the community together, it’s a nice atmosphere” she tells me.
“It’s nice to know that you’re doing something to help everyone else out. With so much time on my hands it’s better than sitting at home doing nothing.
“I live in a flat, no garden. It’s not like the first lockdown with lots of sun. It’s much better to be around people and talk to whoever you’re working with in person and not on a screen.”
Beth works in a school and has been volunteering on and off since last April, depending on whether the schools are open or not. She contacted Voluntary Action Leeds at the start of the pandemic and they matched her to Slung Low.
“I know I’m really privileged to have a car, to be able to afford my rent and I can keep food on the table, I’m so lucky. It’s the least I can do to try and support people who aren’t as lucky as me” she tells me.
“Since I started volunteering it’s just opened my eyes even wider (to the problems of deprivation), I’m more passionate about it.
“I was aware of deprivation, but then to come face to face with it, it’s made me even more angry that there’s such inequality – there’s people with so much and people with so little. We’re all weathering the same storm, but some people are in very different boats.
“It’s overwhelming how nice people are, it’s not their fault that they’re in need of food. People are so polite and so grateful. I’m just upset that people feel the need to thank me.”
Finally, I caught up with Alan Lane, who along with the rest of the Slung Low team, organise everything from buying in food, taking referrals and organising the volunteers. I asked him about the volunteers he works with.
“The volunteers are extraordinary; I mean this effort …” he gestures around the room that earlier held 200 crates of food.
“So last year we did 8,188 referrals. The Council worked really hard to do that, we worked really hard to do that, but the lion’s share of all of that effort is the volunteers.
“It is impossible to put a financial cost to it, it’s that big an endeavour but thanks to the volunteers it’s possible. They graft, some of them arrive at 7:30 in the morning.
“So they are the very best of us and what’s lovely is they keep coming back and as the different lockdowns kick in, they keep arriving back.
“It’s very hard for me to admire them more than I do.”
I feel the volunteers really buy into Slung Low’s motto, emblazened in neon lights on the side of the club:
If you need food, text your name and address to 07305 155698 before Wednesday.