Holbeck Together 'worth its weight in gold' when it comes to supporting families

A charity rooted in a south Leeds community has been 'worth its weight in gold' says a mum who helped to inspire its flourishing school holidays programme.

Saturday, 20th February 2021, 11:45 am

Amid the many challenges that local families have faced throughout the pandemic, Holbeck Together has been a constant source of support whether providing food parcels, activity packs or simply somewhere to turn for anyone who needs to talk.

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"There's a lot of great community spirit in Holbeck that I didn't realise really until Covid", says mum-of-three Nikki Hayes. "It's how everyone has pulled together, we're not seeing anyone going without. A lot of that comes out of Holbeck Together.

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"If they can help you out in any way, shape or form, they will. It's just somewhere in the community that welcomes you with open arms. They've helped me endlessly during lockdown. I probably wouldn't have made it through without them."

Now a volunteer with the charity based in Domestic Street, it was Nikki who helped to set in motion its very first holiday club after she raised the lack of facilities for families in the area.

She said: "There was nothing in Holbeck that's for families - that was a big part of it. We want to spend time with the kids and make memories with them."

The past week has been all about that, with the charity and its volunteers putting together a five-day programme that has included quizzes, competitions and a scavenger hunt that saw daffodils placed in the windows of elderly residents so that they could wave to the families following the trail.

Holbeck Together chief executive Elissa Newman. Picture: Gary Longbottom

Parents and children cooking together is another key theme, with boxes full of fruit and veg provided this week as well as everything needed for roast chicken dinner and all the trimmings going out to families yesterday.

Monday saw more than 80 jacket potatoes cooked and ready for collection at lunchtime, while Tuesday's main activity provided each family with the necessary ingredients, a recipe sheet and frying pan before they shared their efforts in an online pancake making competition.

Holbeck Together chief officer Elissa Newman said: "It was really important that we put together a fun programme of activities that just refreshed people. When you're at home all the time anyway and then it's half term, what's different?

"The whole point was almost that the families could have a holiday at home. It was very important to us that it was a week that could be jam-packed with activities. It's been really wonderful."

Mum and Holbeck Together volunteer Nikki Hayes with sons Alfie and Logan. Picture: Gary Longbottom

For mums like Nikki who are juggling the pressure of home schooling and work, it has provided a real boost.

"It was nice to know we had that coming up and it was a full five days," she said. "We were socially distanced but when you collect your parcels, it's having a five minute chat to another parent. Some of the parents hadn't spoken to anybody for weeks and weeks.

"A lot of the parents have been talking to me and saying how grateful they are for the help and support."

The charity's kids club began back in 2019 and is now part of the city-wide Healthy Holidays programme funded through Leeds Community Foundation.

Holbeck together chef Julie Marshall, right, with other volunteers. Picture: Gary Longbottom

At its most basic level, it aims to address the issue of food poverty for families whose children would usually receive free school meals in term-times.

Holbeck Together received £5,000 from the programme as organisations stepped up to meet the challenge of supporting people through the pandemic.

Mrs Newman said: "It focuses on school holidays and it doesn't sound like a lot of money, but it's just an inspirational project in the sense of the support we've had from the Foundation with its network of other organisations in the city, groups that might supply activity packs, Fareshare and others.

"The whole point is to support local-based communities to provide activities across the school holidays. It's kind of expanded from there. It can introduce families into improving skills, gaining confidence, to making affordable meals and communicating with each other.

"I really love this project. It's created strength within the community. We've got families now supporting each other. On the WhatsApp group, families are talking to each other - 'I've got a spare washing machine, I've got a fridge, can anybody help me?'"

The kind of support that was originally focused around the school holidays has been needed for many households during the three national lockdowns too.

With donations from the likes of Fareshare, Rethink, Morrisons and the Leeds United Foundation, Holbeck Together alone has provided 11,000 meals since March for both its older clients and local families.

Mrs Newman said: "It wasn't just the meal, the meal was a catalyst for a volunteer appearing on someone's doorstep who's maybe shielding, who doesn't see anybody. They get a 'hello, how are you?'. They might deliver a bunch of flowers, activity packs.

"It's the catalyst to get the additional support that comes with that, that's enabled people to keep their spirits up."

Nikki said a lot of families in her part of Holbeck would have struggled without the help provided by the charity in the past year.

She said: "With Covid, they've been worth their weight in gold with the food parcels. Really brilliant. Every week we have a new recipe to go home and cook with your family. They give us a step by step guide, all the ingredients."

It is in stark contrast to the pictures shared widely on social media last month of what some companies have been sending out as weekly parcels for pupils who would usually get a free school meal but are having to homeschool.

Mrs Newman said: "There were also thousands and thousands of meals being provided and emergency responses that were good parcels. I would never want to think some adverse publicity would stop a provision that supports people.

"If there are matters to be learned from that and strengthening in certain areas, that's great. Let's face it, nobody planned for Covid. We had to mobilise and change activities very quickly.

"I do firmly believe though that emergency parcels in any shape or form, to whatever age group, it's a lifeline. Whatever age group, it's so important we continue to deliver the food parcels. They help in that crisis, in that moment, and help to support them out of that crisis."

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