July 2, 2020 11:28 pm, .
Yvonne Simms had the shock of her life when she recently received a letter on behalf of her Majesty the Queen. The message was in recognition of ‘Volunteer Week’ and to acknowledge the valued role of volunteers and Food Banks during the pandemic. Yvonne, who runs the Salford Food Parcels and Holiday Hunger projects, said,...
Yvonne Simms had the shock of her life when she recently received a letter on behalf of her Majesty the Queen. The message was in recognition of ‘Volunteer Week’ and to acknowledge the valued role of volunteers and Food Banks during the pandemic. Yvonne, who runs the Salford Food Parcels and Holiday Hunger projects, said, ‘ I was surprised that they even knew we were here, it’s incredible!’
Thank you to all our heroes.
The heroes include all volunteers who enable Yvonne, Martin and their team to continue running the Salford Food parcels and Holiday Hunger projects. Volunteers came forward from every section of our community…kind-hearted Veterans of the Armed Forces and friends donated Christmas presents for local children. Ladies who knit and crochet, who give their time to support mums and babies, and those who have donated clothes and food for families. Subsequently, this army of volunteers, many who don’t shout out ( we know who you are), are themselves, the real-life heroes too…and we thank you!
Yvonne Simms runs the Salford Food Parcels and the Holiday Hunger project and has been a worthy recipient of the ‘Heart of Salford’ award for volunteering. She has a strong desire for change, and her dream is to open up a Community Hub in Salford. The hub will be called Salford Safe Harbour, and it will be a place where families can get access to help whenever they need it.
The journey begins…
Yvonne Simms was at ‘The Ode to Christmas’ event raising awareness of her projects, and beside her was me, Val Hogan. I became aware of Yvonne for 2 reasons. The first was we all had stunning display boards in the hope that we could lure people to come over. Yvonne had a homemade display board… Secondly, we were tempting people over with free sweets for the children ( as you do), to sell tickets to their parents. However, the traffic to our stall, even with our free sweets, never matched our neighbours. Yvonne’s stall had a constant stream of families and children who met her with genuine hugs of affection, it was beautiful to see. I smiled as I watched their open display of love, and I thought ‘this woman is really well-loved.’ I wanted to find out more.
Salford Food Parcels and the Holiday Hunger projects
I introduced myself to Yvonne Simms, and we connected over a mutual desire for change together. Yvonne told me of the projects that she ran, Salford Food Parcels and the Holiday Hunger project, and how she was trying to get donations to keep it going. Yvonne was worried, Christmas was coming, and there would be a higher demand for these projects; therefore, she was trying to enlist more volunteers to help.
Verve…working with charities to support vulnerable families.
I told Yvonne about Verve Recruitment, my business that recruits foster carers for Not for Profit charities, and my reasons why I had started it. I had worked in recruitment for an Independent Fostering Agency, and I had become aware of the costs for local authorities to place foster children with them. These exorbitant costs had affected the vital Children’s support networks, and this lack of support was putting families at risk. Therefore Verve works alongside Not for Profit charities who have systems in place to support families. I create campaigns and recruit additional foster carers for them.
These charities are Not for Profit and invest every penny profit back into Children’s services, and more importantly for me, they, wherever possible, try to keep families together. Verve is a limited company that has a charitable purpose, and every penny profit I make is invested back too. I recognised the importance of Yvonne’s projects to local families, and I wanted to help her. However, like Yvonne, I had self-financed my business, I have no funding, it was young, and I had no money.
Verve… creating engaging campaigns to ‘make a difference.’
However, what I did have was a system from which I could create blogs, articles and campaigns which I would produce for her at no cost? I offered to do this and to develop campaigns on Social media from my website. Yvonne had no Social media or website presence at all, and no money to start one, so she could share mine. I volunteered my time freely to create a presence for her within the community in which I advertise. One community we proudly support and represent are the Armed Forces Veteran community. Verve is a collective group of Armed Forces Veterans and the families of Veterans, many of us having generations of family who have served proudly for peace. We agreed I would meet with her the following week and get a ‘feel for what she did’.
The day reality hit home…
The following week Yvonne and I met again, and it is a day which I will never forget. The reality of sitting in a room with families coming in and collecting food shocked me. I had never realised the impact of poverty before, but you could sense the despair and sadness on young faces. The air was thick, no one spoke, and babies in prams just stared with huge eyes at me. There were no smiles, only women that were once proud, who now looked tired and broken.
These women were proud, but they silently took what was offered with gratitude. Sadly, they had no choice. I felt ashamed to be watching them, they didn’t know me, and I didn’t want them thinking I was judging them. It was uncomfortable because I know what it is like to be on benefits. I remember that silent despair…and my heart broke for them.
Universal Credit, the safety net which fails to catch you.
My hell on benefits began when, for the first time in my life, I became voluntarily unemployed. Universal Credit was being trialled in 2016, and I had left my position as a Nursery manager due to a safeguarding concern I had about another person, who I knew could sack me if I spoke out. Therefore, my dilemma was to say nothing and keep my job or speak up. So, I spoke up and reported it to Ofsted resigning with immediate effect and thus made myself unemployed.
I had no money, no wifi, and the phones in the Jobcentre had been taken away. I was told to call Universal credit on my mobile and register myself, I was assured it was free. So, I rang, it took ten minutes to speak to someone, then my money ran out. The call was at the premium rate. So, with my phone credit gone, and no money to top up, I hadn’t spoken to Universal Credit, and therefore no money. I began to feel like there was a conspiracy to make life so hard that you actually gave up, sadly some people do. The suicide rates for people on benefits has grown, more people are homeless, and the safety net which should catch you has a vast austerity shaped hole.
When the labelling begins…
Therefore with fists clenched I complained, and I ended up venting my anger on BBC Radio Lancashire. This gave me my first insight of labelling, the man on the radio station knew me as Val, unemployed, that was my name on his list. The presenter informed me in a pious manner, ‘Universal Credit is like a salary, it is merely about you learning to manage my money’. He was about 25 years of age, and I don’t suppose he realised how judgemental he sounded. I told him it was the first time I had been unemployed in a career spanning nearly 40 years. But, that didn’t matter, he didn’t hear, and the phone line went dead. I was merely Val who was unemployed…and I learned the hard way that labels stick fast.
The Christmas week challenge, Salford Food Parcels.
It was Christmas week, and Yvonne had chocolate and small toys for the children as Christmas presents. Every Christmas we look forward to receiving gifts, no matter how little, because it’s Christmas. However, for the women who had food parcels, there were no presents for them, they were invisible. They had essential hygiene products such as sanitary towels, soaps and shampoos, which were part of the food parcels, but they had no gifts. I felt these women had been left out because they had children, they were now mums, so as women, they didn’t exist. They had no chocolate or gifts; however, they did have personal hygiene products, but these were a human right. I prayed to God to say ‘thank you’ for women like Yvonne Simms, and I vowed to make a change.
The Christmas week challenge – The Holiday Hunger project.
Yvonne leaned forward to me and dealt the killer blow. She told me ‘many of the children in the Holiday Hunger project might not get Christmas presents this year’.
I asked her to explain, she said ‘many of the children were from families who were cash strapped’. She told that one family was recently sanctioned on his Universal Credit payments. He had not understood what was expected of him, and innocently missed a deadline…they stopped his money. His monies would not start until January 2020; therefore, with no money and 5 children, it seemed unlikely that Father Christmas would be calling on them. All the time I was with Yvonne she was giving families cash from her own purse, I watched her, and she told me’ I don’t know what else to do?’ I did, it led to the start of Facebook appeals, and our community came forward. The kindness of strangers brought Father Christmas to them.
Armed Forces Veterans and civvies united as Father Christmas…
I went home, and my mind was racing, it was nearly Christmas, and we didn’t have a lot of time. So, I simply put a post on Verve’s Facebook page and asked my friends if they would help? We needed 34 gifts for the Holiday Hunger children who might not get a Christmas present… and the response was terrific. Four days later, we delivered 93 Xmas gifts back to Yvonne with £100.00, all kindly volunteered by the Salford Veterans Breakfast Club, Verve’s friends and my personal family and friends. Consequently, every child had presents and a treat-filled Xmas Holiday Hunger lunch box.
‘Yvonne Simms – A Vision to Create a Community Hub’
Verve Ambassador Jocelyn Croston had worked Tindall Street allotments previously when she set up the Mustard Tree food bank. One of the aims of Yvonne’s hub was to have healthy food for the Holiday Hunger children; however, she wasn’t aware of anywhere that could help her. Jocelyn told Yvonne that Tindall allotments had kindly volunteered surplus foods to her in her previous projects and suggested she contacted them? Therefore, we set off to meet with them in an aim to establish a partnership that would lead donations of surplus organic food.
Coronavirus was lurking around the corner.
Yvonne and Martin and volunteers run their own allotment where they grow their own fruit and vegetables for the projects. They also have a family of chickens who provide freshly laid eggs, However, they often needed more; therefore, the aim was to hopefully find a donation of surplus stock? Tindall allotments were very supportive, however, amid all this progress, Coronvirus was lurking in the shadows. Consequently, lockdown ended our plans, and the devastating effects of Coronavirus on our community began to emerge.
Verve creating campaigns for children in care…
We have created engaging campaigns on behalf of Not for Profit charities to raise the awareness of children in care. Sadly, more children are still waiting longer for foster carers, and the demand is higher than ever before. Coronavirus was making this even harder to recruit; however, we adapted, and we stepped up the recruitment campaigns.
There are over 1200 foster carers needed in the North West alone, and sadly this figure is rising. Children, and recruiting foster carers for them subsequently became the focus of Verve’s campaigns.
Children became ‘heroes’ too…
For many children, the pandemic had made an enormous impact on their lives, yet they accepted it with quiet dignity. They knew something big was happening; therefore, they did what we asked them to do because we told them it would ‘make everything better’…So they painted rainbows and clapped alongside us for the NHS with a calm acceptance and in complete trust. They shared their simplicity of life with us, and we reacted with humility. We acknowledge a humble recognition of their kindness…sadly, for some people, their understanding is not deserved.
The campaigns created a tremendous response, and subsequently, there have been more enquiries from potential families than ever before. One drive was promoting Parent and Child foster care. This type of care means that with Foster carers support, mothers and their babies can stay together…And that is important.
Emergency food parcels during Coronavirus
Yvonne Simms told me that Coronavirus had impacted on Salford Food Parcels. This was due to people who relied on it, couldn’t get to them, they were self-isolating. She was concerned that people were not able to get out; therefore, we needed to inform people that emergency food parcels were available to them. A team of 12 volunteers came forward to help deliver Food Parcels to vulnerable households; subsequently, a social media campaign was created.
The campaign had been published for ten minutes when we received the first of the 35 enquiries from vulnerable households. One family lived in Bury, and sadly they were out of the area; however, Yvonne and Martin, both in their 70’s, got in their car and took a Food Parcel to them anyway. Salford Food Parcels will help if they can, they will never turn anyone away. And if they can’t help, they would signpost people to a food bank that was local to them.
Salford Food Parcels Knitting Appeal
Yvonne said she noticed that a lot of new mums had a lack of knitted baby clothes for their babies, possibly because the charity shops had closed? Most people bought wool from there, it was also where most women bought clothes for their families from anyway. It was summer now, however, if the pandemic carried on much longer, then it could become a problem? So, subsequently, I created another campaign which surpassed all others. I wrote a blog to ask people if they could knit clothes for the babies? The response was amazing…and the ‘Knitting for Babies’ campaign began.
Coronavirus hit home in more ways than one.
During Coronavirus, my Mum sadly suffered a stroke. My Mum had been in lockdown on her own for over 12 weeks. She is a strong-minded woman; however, isolation, loneliness and the fear of Coronavirus, often fuelled by media negativity had impacted on her health. I wanted to aid her recovery, and find a gentle hobby for her to become involved in. My concern wasn’t just Mum’s physical health, she’s strong, my main concern was her mental health. She needed to feel valued, and more importantly, she needed to make a contribution as a woman in her own right.
Setting a ‘knitting challenge’ to aid recovery…
I set up the challenge for Mum to knit a jacket for a baby boy who had recently been born to one of the Mums from Salford Food Parcels. The baby had been born early, he was small, and I knew that this would usually have been enough to get her hooked. I also knew her confidence had been knocked, so I told her it was okay because there’s no rush. The baby is in hospital and might be there for a while; however, it would be nice if his Mum could have a new jacket to bring him home from the hospital in?
She tried to back out by saying that she hadn’t knit for years, her excuse being that ‘there were sadly no more babies in our family.’ However, she did have a ball of blue wool, and she loved creating something out of nothing; consequently, Mum turned off the telly and began to knit!
We received enquiries from ladies who all wanted to help, some could crochet, some liked knitting hats and bootees, some liked blankets; therefore, a collective community of wool and pattern sharing began. These ladies all had one common purpose, no baby should ever not have new clothes. Women like my Mum loved to knit; however, they had no babies to knit for, others were self-isolating or recuperating from illness. Some by their own admission, ‘had nothing to do’, and sadly some women simply stated they felt of no use anymore, they were lonely. One lady wasn’t able to knit; however, her Mum used to have a wool shop and subsequently, she kindly donated patterns and balls of wool to keep everyone going!
Creating a sense of purpose for women.
For many women, Coronavirus has led to seclusion, and mental health and depression have raised their heads again. Women are feeling they have no purpose, and the longer this continues, the worse they will feel. The darkness of depression creeps in like their old best friend, and they embrace it, often the familiarity is comforting. Seclusion means that we can’t see it, and they suffer alone; therefore, knitting has allowed them to slam the door to an unwelcome visitor.
Where do we go from here?
We are finalising the plans to birth Yvonne’s dream of a Community hub in Salford where both the Salford Food Parcels and Holiday Hunger will be run. Salford Safe Harbour will be a joint venture with Verve Community Care, and it will be built on a partnership of mutual faith, compassion and care for our community. Coronavirus will not stop us, our mission is just beginning, determination and faith guide us, because the one thing we have learned from these last 6 months, is that no matter what life throws at you if we stick together, we can beat anything.
If you would like to find out more about what we do, be a part of it or offer to help us, please get in touch. Our communities have been struck, our families have struggled, and our children are being moved away from their homes. We have a lack of Children and family support networks, and charities are supporting communities, while our local authorities are bled dry by huge costs. These costs are from Independent business that is based offshore and where Directors are paid huge bonuses and dividends.
We will continue to support children and their families in Salford, and ensure that every child has the opportunities and chances in life that they deserve. Contact us today for a chat…’Together we can make a difference’.