Our Story

Mutual Aid Food Willesden (MAFW) has operated as a food hub and distribution centre since lockdown began, providing emergency food aid and other essentials to households and individuals across Brent. Since 23 March 2020 we have fed over 9,500 people, raising over £60,000 and operating with a team of up to 50 volunteers from across the borough. This phase of the project ended on 28 August 2020.

From 8 September we are operating in partnership with Sufra, the Brent-based food bank and community kitchen, to act as a distribution hub, providing advice and food aid for collection on one day a week from the Pakistan Community Centre.


The history of Mutual Aid Food Willesden shows the power of local people working together to support each other during a time of crisis.

Mutual Aid Food Willesden has been a cross-ward collaboration from the beginning. It began as a personal initiative by Mapesbury Councillor Tariq Dar, operating from the Pakistan Community Centre. But as the scale of need increased it quickly outgrew its origins. Soon after it opened, leaders and initial volunteers from Brent’s Mutual Aid groups visited the Centre and agreed to work together, pool their volunteers and support it as a food hub.

MAFW is separate from and organised differently from the council ward-based Mutual Aid Groups. Yet without all the local Mutual Aid groups coming together to provide resources and people from their wide volunteer network, MAFW would never have been able to operate and serve the community in the way that it has.

How our story of a collaboration of volunteers started
When the lockdown came in, Mutual Aid groups started popping up all over the UK. Initially their aim was to reach out to vulnerable people and the elderly, collecting their prescriptions or doing their shopping. In Brent, for example, Robert Stearn started Mutual Aid Mapesbury and a Facebook page for Brent Mutual Aid; Kieu-My started Dudden Hill Mutual Aid and Elliot Cox, Kensal Green Mutual Aid. Selina Thanda-Ali, Cara Conquest and Rob Harrison began Dollis Hill Mutual Aid, while Esther Foreman and Mia Jeannot began the Mutual Aid Group for Willesden Green. The groups began a lively conversation with their local residents through WhatsApp groups and newsletters. While this network was establishing itself, Councillor Dar started buying and receiving food to distribute, storing it at the Pakistan Community Centre, and asked Dione Southby to run it as a food hub.

The name Mutual Aid Food Willesden
We decided to call the group Mutual Aid Food Willesden early on, to reflect its wide brief, while gratefully continuing t
o occupy the Pakistan Community Centre rent-free. The project has always pledged to help anyone who is in need, if we have the resources to do so. We are:

  • Mutual Aid as we are a group of local people organised to meet needs during COVID-19

  • Food because we felt we needed to say what it does on the tin

  • Willesden because the historic borough of Willesden covered the area from Kilburn to Dollis Hill and so represented all the local wards. (Although our reach has expanded much further.)


Volunteering without borders
Volunteers just want to support the local community as a whole and many residents have no idea which ward they live in, nor do they care. They don’t associate themselves with the administrative boundaries of the ward system and so have been happy to work across ward borders.

In fact if asked, most people describe where they live as their local station or high street, or by which council tax bill they pay. In the last few months COVID 19 and the lockdown have shown how people are willing to work together regardless of where they live, their background, colour or religion. It has been an extraordinary and rewarding thing, a shining light in the darkness. Working together has created friends out of strangers and brought many people into much closer contact with their neighbours.

Broadly speaking we allocate a different set of ward volunteers on each of the 5 days the hub is open, but it’s more about a volunteer being willing and having the time to give to the various shifts whilst abiding by social distancing rules. A shift takes a lot of effort and there are too many local street heroes who volunteer to name them all, but here are the locally-based shift coordinators:
 

  • Dudden Hill                                - Jutta Moore      (Monday)

  • Dollis Hill/Dudden Hill             - Sean Ross          (Tuesday)

  • Willesden Green/Mapesbury  - Dione Southby  (Wednesday)

  • Dollis Hill                                    - Nicole Jebelli     (Thursday)

  • Kensal Green                             - Julia Avnon         (Friday)

  • Willesden Green                        - Ruthie Jacobs    (Stand in)

  • Dudden Hill                                - Kieu-My             (Stand in)


We also have a range of volunteers who do the background organisational and administration work such as finance, databases and statistics, outreach, the newsletter, website, grant applications, social media, GDPR, etc. Some are in social isolation or shielding and so work from home. In addition to the shift coordinators, these volunteers also participate in our weekly team meetings. They include:
 

  • Dudden Hill                              - Chris Webb

  • Mapesbury                                - Elayne Coakes

  • Kensal Green                            - Laura Young

  • Kilburn/Mapesbury                  - Abbie Jenkins

  • Dudden Hill                               - Ellie Lawson

  • Dudden Hill                               - Sally Kirkwood

  • Dudden Hill                               - Robert Chester

  • Willesden Green/Mapesbury - Jenifer Dunn

  • Cricklewood/Mapesbury         - Anna Bateman


Whenever we think up a task, we ask for a volunteer (frequently through the ward-based Mutual Aid groups). Whoever steps up is allocated the task.

The food and essential aid recipients
At the very beginning we were feeding clients from Ashford Place, the community centre in Cricklewood, and those in the local Pakistani Community, but the need grew quickly and many requests were also being received from Neasden and Wembley where the mutual aid groups were less active.

Councillor Dar and Danny Maher, CEO of Ashford Place, have relationships with the local churches and synagogues they’ve worked with on homeless projects over the years. As an example, Rev Yeates from St Gabriel’s Church and Rabbi Baruch and Kezi Levin of Brondesbury Park Synagogue visited the hub early in lockdown to get the word out, which attracted referrals.

Soon Barnardo’s came on board as an outreach partner, as they are commissioned by Brent Council to offer family support in the borough. Our recipients’ geographical locations widened yet further to all over Brent and occasionally just over the borders into other boroughs such as Barnet, Harrow and Ealing.

We will support any household with an initial request for food and essential aid if we can. However we are dependent on the capacity of our volunteer drivers to deliver so our focus has been on Brent.

Our outreach partners have grown since the early days. Although we will accept direct requests for aid, most of our recipients are filtered through our outreach partners. We try to track where the referrals come from. To give you a snapshot of the operation, the numbers look like this:

Recipients of food aid who still needed support after food deliveries finished at the end of August have been referred, with their consent, to the community centre Ashford Place, to receive targeted advice and onward referral.  They will also be able to apply to SUFRA for food parcels.

The structure of Mutual Aid Food Willesden
Like the other Mutual Aid groups, we have had to set up structures very quickly which allow us to handle finances and fulfil statutory requirements for safeguarding and risk management during a pandemic. We have benefited from using the Willesden Green Town Team’s formal status and bank account on behalf of the local wards for depositing money and applying for grants. We use the Local Giving website for fundraising donations. As our partners and beneficiaries include those from Barnardo’s, Ashford Place and Pakistani Community Centre we have also been able to use their charity registration numbers when appropriate. We have also had help from CVS Brent and Brent Council in meeting their requirements.

Like most organisations at this time, we have weekly communications, food redistribution and team meetings via Zoom, and busy WhatsApp groups. Anyone actively involved in MAFW is welcome to join the Task Force which forms the core oversight committee and to attend the team meeting. In practice no more than 10 people attend the team meeting, with 6 consistent members from the outset.

Outreach further into the community
Initially, our volunteers from up and down the borough, such as Nick Friedman from Kilburn and Amir Al-Rubai of Barnhill, were using their own vehicles to deliver large quantities of food surplus from supermarkets and local shops to various hubs who could make use of the food. Along with Kieu My’s Food Kitchen volunteering contacts, it meant we increasingly linked in more with the other food kitchens and groups to grow a wider food redistribution network.

Today we run a WhatsApp Food Redistribution network which ensures surplus food moves around rapidly to where it is needed before it expires. When a big food donation comes in, different amounts are set aside for various food banks before it expires. The Food Redistribution network continues to grow and includes among others: Community Response Kitchen (based in Alperton but delivering all over North West London); Granville Kitchen (Kilburn); The Avenue, Maqan Centre, Salusbury World, Gift your neighbour (Kensal Green/Queens Park); SUFRA; Naz’s Kitchen (Stonebridge); St Raphael’s Estate (Neasden); St Catherine’s Church (Neasden); Mutual Aid Welsh Harp; Mutual Aid Harlesden; Yum Yum; Acton Mutual Aid Acton; Trussell Trust’s Brent Food Bank; Paddington Food Bank and Mutual Aid groups in Ealin
g, Barnet and Harrow. It is another example of how the wider community is coming together to share and bring hope.

Grants
We have gratefully received grants from the following so far:

  • £5,000 Segro’s Centenary Fund administered through The London Community Foundation gave early and gave us the confidence to continue after our initial set up

  • £500 from Meeting Needs also made a big difference

  • £500 from Greggs Foundation administered through Sembles was also a huge boost

  • £8,770 from National Lottery in July as the money began to dwindle was a much appreciated surprise

Donations

  • A lovely family from Willesden we nicknamed “Nova” gave early and generously from the start at the rate of £1,000 a week which gave us the confidence to start up the food bank.  In total they gave £11,000 and without their support MAFW simply would not have happened 

  • Another lady gave us £1,000 through LocalGiving with no fanfare, such a wonderful present to the community 

  • A local couple we nicknamed “Dova” gave us £2,500 in early July as we began to be concerned about fundraising amounts dropping as lock down eased 

  • Ocado customers kindly donated £8,700 towards the end of the project which made all the difference.

  • Mapesbury Residents' Association also kindly donated £1,200.

  • Local people have generously supported us by giving £26,500 so far through the Localgiving website.


Surplus food donations
Local residents have touched our hearts bringing food donations to the yellow wheelie bin outside the Centre.

In addition volunteers contacted all sorts of organisations and charities to ask and register for food donations or surplus food. As a result, MAFW receives food and essential aid from many different charities and organisations. The most regular and largest surplus food and essential aid donations come from:

  • City Harvest (which includes Felix Project)

  • FareShare (regular donations are received from Tesco, M&S, Asda)

  • Sikh Gurdwara Temple, Slough

  • Goods for Good


There are many other local organisations who have also provided either goods or discounted rates when we most needed it. Please see our thank you page on the Mutual Aid Food Willesden website.

Between March 2020 and the end of August we provided  help to around 9500 people, spending about £2,000 a week on food and essential supplies.

Thanks to the generosity of friends, neighbours, local businesses and donor organisations, we reached our fundraising target by the end of August, even though donations dramatically slowed as lockdown eased.  Any funds remaining will be used to meet the aims of the project in providing emergency food aid to people living in Brent.


Thank you for your support so far and please continue to support MAFW and your neighbours.

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