Hope restored?

One of my favourite films is Clockwise starring John Cleese. It tells the story of a desperate headteacher attempting to reach the national conference which he is supposed to lead. He faces one calamity after another and almost gives up on several occasions. Eventually he comes out with the immortal words, “It’s not the despair. I can take the despair. It’s the hope I can’t stand”.

The other day I was at a networking lunch for local charity leaders. Each person was given five minutes to speak about the issues they were encountering. After the first three had spoken, I'd had enough. The atmosphere had completely changed and my appetite for new stories deserted me. My hope was trickling away.

The first speaker, Helen the manager at King’s Lynn Foodbank, told us of the dramatic increase in requests for food parcels. During the Easter holiday, demand was 171 per cent higher than a year ago. Twice as much food was leaving the warehouse in parcels than being received in donations. Helen described it as “an astounding and worrying increase”.

The second speaker was Emily from the King’s Lynn Debt Centre. She told us that, as the cost-of-living crisis deepens, more and more people are finding it impossible to make ends meet, no matter how hard they try. She explained that “the poorest are being hit the hardest with higher utility rates, more expensive food, and the rising cost of fuel. They simply do not have anything else that they can cut. They are already making difficult choices between food, heat and clothing their children.”

The third person to speak was Julian, chair of trustees at King’s Lynn Night Shelter. He told us how the night shelter has been at full capacity all winter. Despite this, there were 20 people no the waiting list! He anticipated a very difficult few years ahead.

Having come through Covid 19, my hope was that things would only get better. But for those with the least, things have gone from bad to worse. The poorest in our communities are feeling the full force of the soaring cost of living. Whilst prices are rising by the highest rate for 40 years, benefits are falling. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation points out that “households in receipts of benefits will experience a real-terms cut to their incomes which are already at historically low levels.”[1]

Finding answers to these problems is a huge challenge. Fortunately, there are signs that those in political power are beginning to respond more appropriately. Norfolk County Council is topping up £6.7m of Government funding from the Household Support Fund with a further £1m to create a new Norfolk Cost of Living Support Scheme which will help people who are struggling to pay for food, energy and water bills, and other essentials.

Norfolk Community Foundation are partnering with Norfolk County Council to support communities that are struggling through their Nourishing Norfolk programme. They will deliver a coordinated programme of help in partnership with local charities. Their project will enable the development of affordable food hubs across Norfolk with the aim of ensuring that no one in Norfolk goes hungry.

On a smaller scale, King’s Lynn churches are doing their part by offering free community meals, running drop-ins, or hosting community fridges. Some are once again preparing to become hubs, ready to deliver food and essentials across their parishes. In addition, it is the churches that are providing the vision and volunteers for King’s Lynn Foodbank, and it is the churches that are partnering together to run King’s Lynn Debt Centre.

These initiatives are a start but more help is needed. We have to be creative and find new solutions. Covid-19 presented us with problems on a scale we had never seen before. Pulling together, scientists designed effective drugs, governments funded resources, and communities found new ways of caring. Individuals looked out for their neighbours and the most vulnerable became our priority. If we could find a way through the pandemic, then there must be hope that we can find a way through these new challenges.

John Cleese eventually arrived at the conference, somewhat the worse for wear, having navigated many 'bumps in the road', but crucially with his hope restored. For many, the journey through the next few years is going to be bumpy with many obstacles, but if we can pull together, applying creative generosity, maybe we can all have our hope restored.