Monday, 7 July 2014

Feeding our people

John Walsh speaking to attendees of the
Homeless and Food Aid meeting at St George's Crypt
I was asked to speak at St George's Crypt in Leeds at a Homeless and Food Aid meeting and training evening. This brought together services, faith communities and concerned individuals to work to make sure that people who struggle in Leeds can access food. A year and half ago the Yorkshire Evening Post pointed out how malnutrition cases seeking hospital admission has trebled in five years. Our good colleague, Councillor Lisa Mulherin, the chair of the Health and Wellbeing Board, said: "The numbers being admitted to hospital are shocking and potentially the tip of the iceberg. It’s an absolute disgrace that in a wealthy, modern nation we are seeing anybody turning up in hospital in that condition." Dr Ian Cameron, the director of Public Health in Leeds, said this increase in hospital admissions was a national not just local issue. 

This meeting was part of a response of a city to this issue. And it's not just homeless people or people on benefits but the low paid affected. We seek to draw together services and people to make sure malnutrition doesn't occur in our city and the hungry can be fed. Councillor John Hardy has played a central and leading role in this work. Services like York Street Health Practice and faith initiatives such as Unity in Poverty Action were involved from the beginning. These networks seek to draw together services and people to make sure malnutrition doesn't occur in our city and the hungry can be fed. See a piece in the Yorkshire Evening Post here. There is also now an All Parliamentary Inquiry into Hunger and Food Poverty, which is presently taking evidence under the chairmanship of Frank Field MP and the Bishop of Truro. 

The meeting had three speakers. It was a series which brought together people to look at needs which emerged alongside food. The topic this evening was mental health. I spoke about the Health and Wellbeing Vision of the city and need for a manifesto of good mental health work. This is not just what we do but also how we do it. The call focused on what we try to do at York Street - creating a positive space for the vulnerable, build kind and effective relationships and support people to identify and engage with hope. If we miss these things we end up working superficially. Emma Strachan from Public Health gave a great presentation about the positive work Public Health is doing in Leeds and how she will act as a link between the network and Public Health. The last speaker was Philip Bramson from Volition who spoke eloquently about mental health services in the city.

The meeting was attended by about 45 people - from churches, Adult Social Care, the Welfare Rights Unit, MIND, the food banks. Skyline, Archway and other organisations. Special mention must be made of Unity in Poverty Action who have done such amazing work in bringing together and supporting this network. The sense in the room was one of care and commitment to be with and support those in this city who find life hard. If we could bottle the energy, compassion and goodness of those present we would have a very potent power to move towards making Leeds the best city for health and wellbeing. This meeting showed me what makes great partnerships. Great partnerships are like a three legged stool. The legs are great vision, great work and great relationships. Pull one leg away and something essential is missing. Without vision we flounder. Without the work there is no change and without the relationships we don't connect.   

This blog is called 'Feeding our people' and it's true. The vulnerable, hungry and sick are not people - they are our people. They belong to our city and we are linked to them. We either work together to create comprehensive cohesion or struggle alone as isolated individuals. The first path is all about making a caring and supportive city. The latter is its opposite - it's negation. If we take the first way and really work together for this one thing will certainly happen, we will be the best we can be in the best city we can make. And that really is something worth working for isn't it?
John Walsh, York Street Practice

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