The Power of Community
Below is a talk by Rajesh Makwana, Director of Sufra NW London, presented at the Pilot Light Annual Conference. The event was chaired by Ed Mayo and other speakers included charity leaders and Andy Haldane, Chief Economist at the Bank of England. For more videos from the conference click here.
Sufra NW London is a Community Food and Support Hub based in one of London’s most disadvantaged housing estates, where almost half of all children live in poverty. Although we are a relatively young charity, we are very much an established part of this community. But community is about so much more than physical location. To me, community is about relationships, it’s about sharing and it’s about responsibility.
When we are part of a community, we exist in a shared spaced – although not necessarily a physical one. As community members, we have the right to access the resources and the support available. In return, we all have a responsibility to improve the community and the lives of those within it. And it’s when we act on this responsibility that the true power of community becomes evident.
Belonging to a community means being compassionate and treating others as if they are part of our extended family – whether by simply saying hello and being helpful, or by doing whatever we can to support people in crisis. As Jim, our Garden Learning and Engagement Coordinator says, a community isn’t just the people within it; it’s more the glue that holds them all together.
We’ve all witnessed the power of Community during the pandemic. The way NHS staff worked tirelessly to save lives with nationwide public support for their amazing work. The way teachers and parents worked together to educate our children. The way mutual aid groups, food providers and local councils came together to make sure everyone had enough food to eat. Not to mention the phenomenal vaccination program delivered largely by volunteers.
At Sufra, our community is very diverse, but it includes people and organisations that are united in a common purpose: ending hunger. That’s the goal for our guests who can’t afford to buy food. And all our other stakeholders share the same aim.
Our community includes the residents on St. Raphael’s Estate who volunteer to grow food for our Community Kitchen. It includes the construction firms that have volunteered to renovate our buildings. It even includes the occasional Hollywood actor that has donated to our cause.
But at the heart of our community are two main groups: the thousands of people we support who urgently need food, toilet rolls, nappies and other basics; and our inspiring team of volunteers, and regular donors, who give what they can and work tirelessly to ensure that people in the community don’t go to bed hungry.
At Sufra, the power of our community is most evident when we bring together all of these – and many other – stakeholders to serve our common cause.
Providing emergency food aid has always been our core work. Over the past year, we distributed 345,000 meals to those struggling to make ends meet. But we are far more than a food bank, and we have developed a wide range of services in response to the needs of the community. From our community garden to our advice services and refugee resettlement program, to our food academy courses for young people. They’ve all been developed for the community, with input from the community, and are largely delivered by the community.
But we have only just begun to tap into the real power and potential of this thing we call community. There is far more impact we can have by exploring new ways of harnessing the goodwill and passion of those we support and those who support us.
The future of Sufra will be about doing more to demonstrate the power of community in making a lasting difference to those in need – not just handing out food parcels.
This includes a program of civic engagement to connect our stakeholders with opportunities for meaningful community action. Our future will also see more campaigning to address the structural causes of poverty and inequality – both locally and across the UK.
In short, a truly powerful community is one that is working together and actively engaged in making the world a better place. That’s as true for a community working in a part of London as it is for a community that transcends borders and works on national or global issues.
On that note, I’d like to invite you all to be part of The Sufra Community, no matter where you may live. It maybe a cliché, but we simply can’t do this work without you – and we are indeed stronger together! Thank you.
24 June 2021
Watch the Full Event Here