“Mind your backs!” John booms as boxes of food come bustling past the pews and towards the altar. It’s half past 11, and the food delivery for the Community Food Share at Holy Trinity Church in Leytonstone is late.
Around 100 people of every age and background sit patiently in groups while the volunteers race to unpack the food and set things up. “We usually do this before we open the doors!” Vicar Polly tells me. But with music playing and cups of tea and coffee flowing, nobody seems too agitated. Indeed the whole design of the Community Food Share system is to enable people not to rush or to feel like they’re just getting a hand out, but rather to connect and spend time together.
An open invitation to everyone
Shazia says she’s been coming for years, a reminder that this Warm Welcome Space existed before ‘Warm Spaces’ were even a thing. She doesn’t come every week, but as she puts it “it’s nice to have somewhere to go when things get a bit tight”. I comment on the diversity of people here and she says “I’m not a Christian, and I’ve been in churches before where I haven’t felt welcome. But here you don’t feel like you’re different.” It’s one of many references to the welcome people experience and the impact that has on them. As another guest Beth puts it, “It’s not just the food, it’s the social aspect too. They know you, and they notice when you’re not here.”
Beth started coming last Christmas when she reached a crunch point with her energy bills. She proudly tells me that she hasn’t turned the heating on yet this winter, after a strategic purchase of a fleeced hoodie in the autumn.
Paul is a guest but also an active part of the congregation at Holy Trinity. He was a Reader, until issues with his sight forced him to step back from that role. “I don’t come here cos I’m poor” he tells me. “But I struggle to navigate the shops on my own, and this is a much nicer place to get food.”
Our conversations come to a brief halt as we all sing happy birthday to Charnelle the volunteer. The singing is accompanied by thunder and lightning outside, making people linger over their tea and biscuits.
A haven of kindness
I’m here because Sky News want to film a piece on the Cost of Living, and I’m grateful that a few guests and volunteers are willing to speak to the camera about their situations and the difference this place makes. In many ways Holy Trinity is a very ordinary church in an ordinary estate in East London, but spend a few minutes there and you quickly realise the lifeline it represents for many people. It’s a story I’m glad is going to be told.
As the crowd thins, John man’s the door. “Take care, nice to see you, you be careful of that rain!” His booming voice follows people out into the cold.
As I in turn took my leave (getting instantly soaked as a result), I thought about the people I’d met, and how we can all be battered by storms at different points - whether financially, or with our health, or a relationship that goes awry. Holy Trinity runs a Community Food Share. They operate as a Warm Welcome Space. But what they really are is a Haven of kindness. And we all need somewhere like that in our lives.
*Some names have been changed to protect the identity of individuals.