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Bishop’s Breakfast Briefing

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The latest Bishop’s Breakfast Briefing focused on food poverty, during a time of rising hardship and hunger across the UK, with food banks in the Trussell Trust network distributing over 1.5 million food parcels from April to September 2023 (16% higher than in that period in 2022). In the UK, 3.8 million people are experiencing destitution. Here in Norwich, hunger was highlighted in a Guardian article on child food poverty: ‘Children have bowed legs’: hunger worse than ever, says Norwich school.  

The headteacher, Jade Hunter, who attended the breakfast, spoke about the impact that food poverty and malnutrition was having on education. Base needs, like food, need to be met in order to educate. The school provides budgeting advice, family support and cooking classes to as to upskill parents in the area. It must not be forgotten that these are parents who deeply love their children and want to help them.  

The breakfast began with Bishop Graham reflecting on the ways hunger shapes us. Although food poverty and hunger is still a great scourge on society, a throwback to Dickensian-era suffering we haven’t been able to turn away from, food can also be a great source of joy and community. As Christians, we pray for our daily bread, and bread and wine are integral parts of church gatherings.  

The churches in the Diocese of Norwich have also been involved in providing food, for example through the Filling the Gap project launched during the COVID-19 pandemic, and representatives from several parishes, both urban and rural, spoke about the impact of food poverty on their communities, in particular discussing how to reach hidden pockets of poverty. There were also representatives from many incredible community groups including the Norfolk Community Foundation, Trussell Trust and Imagine Norfolk Together.  

Representatives from the NHS and UEA reminded us of the impact malnutrition can have and the causes behind food poverty. This is something many of the food hubs present were working hard on addressing by providing debt advice and mental health support alongside food parcels. The King’s Lynn foodbank has seen an 11% rise in usage since last year, and more and more complex support needed, with policy changes needed for the long term. Broadland Housing echoed similar thoughts, explaining how universal credit doesn’t cover food, fuel and homes – and that a broader policy change is needed. 

Places like West Earlham Infant & Nursery School talked about the importance of educating families about cooking and nutrition, and in Great Yarmouth the importance of combatting hopelessness was seen as a priority alongside providing free meals in their Pathway Café. The Café has created a strong sense of being a place of community. The Papillon Project and Clinks Care Farm spoke about allotments and food growing, especially with young people. 

Bishop Graham asked the group two questions; what have I learned and what one thing can I do? Many people learnt they were not alone, that creating community is important, the need for policy change, and potential partnerships and connections that had come from these conversations. Others talked about the importance of allotments, home cooking and food growing, the many complex needs people in food poverty have, the scale of the problem we were facing and that much more needs to be done. The food writer Delia Smith recognised the passion of the people in the room, that there was potential for joy, collaboration and hope, and that they were standing in solidarity together. She asked whether a Citizens’ Assembly in Norwich might be a way of progressing this matter? 

Yet more still needs to be done – when asked what one thing they could do, those present talked about sharing the load, sharpening the vision, influencing change, being vocal, offering practical solutions, widening education, changing attitudes and spotlighting lived experiences. They talked also about communicating and campaigning together, forming alliances and understanding the power that they have. A big theme was joined up working and joining the dots. 

It was clear the group had one collective goal – to not need to exist anymore. What a positive vision it would be for food banks to cease operation – not because of lack of funding, but because food poverty had ended. 

The breakfast ended with some reflections from three people present. Claire Cullens from the Norfolk Community Foundation brought up the importance of growing our own using local available land and starting to change behaviour around food and nutrition. She recognised that there was “a lot to build on, and it’s a strength that everyone present is passionate about turning the dial”. Joanna from the Trussell Trust also talked about the amazing work and passion in the room and that “together we have power and strength as there is hope, but structured change is needed”. Delia Smith concluded by saying that “Norfolk can lead the way in ending poverty”. 

Finally, Bishop Graham thanked everyone for the rich conversation and hoped that we can all contribute towards the ending of poverty so that everyone can experience life in all its fullness.