London: (By Hannah Chowdhry and Juliet Chowdhry) British Asian Christian Association has been running our ‘Meals for the Needy’ project since 23rd January 2020 (click here).
The project initially began as table-seated event and at our peak we had over 21 people attending within 2 months of beginning our project.
Many homeless, however believe our outreach began much earlier when we conducted a series of monthly community events under the title of Redbridge Festival in Ilford Town Centre (click here). The events united many local churches of varying denominations in a programme of community action and prayer (click here). The events ensured monthly healings took place in Ilford town centre and most months people were saved and gave their life to Christ. Some of the events had an interfaith harmony aspect as we sought to improve local community peace .
People receiving prayer at the ‘Friendship Centre’ set up at our monthly Redbridge Festivals.
This work and our organising and leading the Redbridge Carnival and Redbridge Easter Parade brought our attention to the burgeoning homeless community in Ilford (click here). They would interact with us during our varied activities.
We found many of our homeless brothers and sisters were seeking someone to talk to, they found life on the streets isolating and had a deep sense of loneliness. There was also a great deal of hunger in the community.
When our community stalls at Redbridge Festival had free food local homeless visitors would sit with us at a table and share food and company. Many not all were open to discussing the Bible and were willing to receive prayer. Fewer still, but a sizeable amount were willing to accept a Gideons Bible which we had in various languages thanks to two local chapters.
“Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Matthew 4:4
So we prayerfully embarked on our challenge to bring the homeless to a tabled meal event at Clementswood Community Centre. Initially we engaged with all the local homeless meals groups and decided on a day to serve that did not clash with other groups.
Hannah Chowdhry our 16 year old project Manager, undertook 9 on-line vocational courses, ranging from Food Safety Level 3, Risk Assessment, Safeguarding Level 3, and more and wrote our food safety manual. She must have got things right as we achieved a 5 star food hygiene rating for our kitchen, via Redbridge Council first time of asking (click here). She also initiated a successful Teenage Chill-Out-Lounge.
No visitors came to our first event as we were relying on other groups to share information on our project. The next week only 4 arrived and it was very disheartening for our group. We prayed about it and asked God if this was a direction he wanted us to undertake and unanimously God spoke to our group and Hannah Chowdhry, reminded us of the success we had at our events, she quoted Matthew 25:40. Hannah was only 16 at the time and inspired by God a child who was baptized at 13 years of age, after church deacons decided she was old enough to understand scripture and the depth of such a commitment (click here).We all understood we were being called to this work.
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew 25:40
From that day onwards our outreach altered, Juliet and Hannah Chowdhry began reaching out to the homeless where they lived, at shopping centre and council car parks, behind Ilford Exchange, at Romford by the river, by Ilford Library – the numbers of our attendees increased rapidly.
Image of Juliet Chowdhry visiting homeless tents behind Ilford Library
Then disaster struck COVID-19 meant that homeless meal centre’s across Redbridge stopped. Except for ours! Hannah managed to devise an outdoor risk assessment that was approved by Redbridge Council who even provided us with 40 traffic cones to socially distance people as the queued in the Prince of Wales Car Park. We struggled with buying food for our hot meals but managed to provide hot meals every day through carefully managed schedules (some of us had to queue for up to 5 hours on rota!.
Homeless people on the first day of our outdoor service described their struggles obtaining food and asked if we could fill more days in a week. So we began a twice daily hot meals and food bank programme (after registering with Neighbourly and Fareshare), 65 people a day began visiting. Furthermore we were helping an additional 30 people in self-isolation due to health conditions (click here) or elderly age (click here). Even better the visibility meant local people and people who travelled past began donating clothes (click here), food, sanitary and other household products (click here) . We were no longer just serving the homeless but refugees, asylum-seekers, the economically deprived and new migrants too. Better still, they also began to interact with one another and a newly created social hub removed COVID-loneliness. People actively told us their mental health had improved through our efforts.
3 “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort,”
4 “who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4
Of course not everyone could cope with the loneliness of COVID-19 and when one of our regular visitors committed suicide, it was a deeply emotional experience for many. We called Pastor Andrew White from Ilford High Road Baptist Church, who prayed with people. He visited frequently after that and helped with prayer requests and counselling.
Local shops, schools and businesses wanted to get involved (click here), churches, mosques (click here) and Temples too (click here), we brought together a whole community. Though quite new to serving homeless people during the pandemic our service became quite pivotal to the local area.
Redbridge Council had to close many of their offices but had to fulfill requirements to house all homeless people in their borough, to protect them from infection. We became an authorised referer for a while as Rydale House struggled to find all the local homeless people. We became responsible for introducing 27 homeless people to the housing scheme all of whom were safely housed. We even mediated for a banned deeply apologetic homeless man who realised his abusive behaviour was wrong and was reintroduced back to a home despite initially receiving a permanent ban.
Soon the NHS heard about our outstanding work and sought permission to undertake hepatology tests and provide treatment from our centre (click here). We duly obliged and even gave them their own space (click here). Westminster drug project also joined us and began to provide free counselling and drug rehabilitation services, later also providing lateral flow tests for COVID-19 ..
Hannah Chowdhry was recognised for her efforts with a Rotary International Young Citizen Award (click here), She appeared on BBC News (click here). We were also recognised by the London Faith and Belief Awards.
In march 2020, Hannah Chowdhry also wrote a comparison of homelessness in Ilford from the 1920’s to modern age. A report that was published in the Ilford Historical Society Magazine making Hannah the youngest ever contributor.
Of course our work has continued and now we serve new migrants from Afghanistan (click here) and (here), Ukraine (click here) and wider. Details of our services our shared by local groups including refugee support groups, council departments and charities helping with homeless. Around 45 people are served hot meals and a food bank every Thursday, Friday and Saturday (cli
Working with other charities, we are able to also give clothes foods and other products (click here), in addition to this whatever is left is sent to Pakistan to help deprived Christians there (click here). We also provide over 50 meals to the Malachi Project run by the Salvation Army once a week.
We celebrate Christian Festivals with our homeless community.
We were even on hand to be able to provide solace for many homeless people who wanted to share their grief for the loss of Queen Elizabeth
Over the last two years we are seeing a growing number of students who are volunteering, especially those requiring a Community Service credit for the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme(click here), Jack Petchey Awards and Yoni Jesner Awards.
Our future looks good too as our partners have increased and now include 6 restaurants, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, Greggs, local churches, Catholic societies, mosques, temples and people from the local community (click here). With your help we can become even more sustainable.
BACA has seen a growth in visitors since our economy has worsened. We are now seeing up to 45 people a day but have lost some of our partners due to personal reasons and finance. The impact our work has had in our community has been phenomenal and we believe God is in control. That said we could not operate without the generosity of our donors and if you would like to commit something to this work you can do.