Some people are just amazing. My friend Louise is one. When the war in Ukraine started, she was moved to provide accommodation for a family she had a connection to through her children at school. The offer was accepted and all went well, so she arranged accommodations for more and more families in the area. One thing always brings another with it. Start small and before you know it, a massive operation is underway.
I am more often inspired by others. During the pandemic, all of the comedy gigs I normally do were put on notice, so I had plenty of time to get going. After lots of banana bread and walks in the park, I finally found a small volunteer role with an organization. near my home in London called Made In Hackney. This is a community food kitchen that prepares a massive batch of meals twice a week which are then delivered to the community. The food is completely vegan and prepared with sustainability in mind. It is not subject to a means test. Just for the people who need it most.
Transporting food is done by bike and that’s where people like me come in. The cyclists travel around East London in pairs and deliver the food to people’s doorsteps. One of us has a fat cargo bike suitable for carrying the load and the other (me) is lapping buildings. Over the course of two to three houses, I have no problem taking 10,000 steps a day.
This is the highlight of my week. In the beginning, you are matched with people you have never met before. Then, during the journey, you will inevitably learn about the person you are with and they will learn more about you. It’s a great way to introduce a new perspective into your day. The day the war broke out in Ukraine, I was on a bicycle with the political leader of a university here. I got a unique insight from her on how academics interpreted the event.
Since doing this I now know more about East London housing estates than a retired postman. I know which buzzers are broken. I know what shortcuts to take to save you from cycling the long way. I know which neighbor to call if a recipient does not answer. I know who is allergic to celery and who doesn’t like it. I know which service users are usually willing to chat and which prefer to eat and go inside.
The pandemic is no longer the threat to our health that it once was, but the Made In Hackney service is needed now more than ever. Although it was born out of the COVID era, the skyrocketing cost of living has reinforced the need for it in our region. Energy costs, Brexit-related surcharges and rising interest rates are making life difficult at all levels. With no signs of government intervention on the cards, it looks rather like the voluntary sector will grow and grow.
The past few years have seen the world become an increasingly cynical place, but we shouldn’t let accusations of “virtue signaling” dissuade us from doing more. If I had known how much I would appreciate the work of Made in Hackney, I would have found my inner ‘Louise’ much sooner.