Since the beginning of London’s lockdown, Croydon’s JAGS Foundation has been delivering food to some of south London’s most vulnerable and poorest residents. A few months ago, you’d probably have gone, ‘Wow, good for them.’ A few weeks ago, you might have mentally added it to the pile of lockdown goodwill stories and then forgotten all about it. But it’s actually quite remarkable, and born of a whole other tragedy.
In 2007, James Andre Godfrey Smartt-Ford was attending a friend’s birthday party at Streatham Ice Rink when he was shot in front of 300 people and died, aged 17. His killing – for which no one has ever been charged – coincided with a dramatic spike in murders among London’s young people that year, with 28 teenagers fatally attacked in the capital.
In the wake of his death, his mother Tracey Ford established the JAGS Foundation, which has now spent a decade supporting families who have seen a child killed, and running workshops in schools to try and stem the flood of youth-on-youth violence in the capital. As a consequence, Ford knows better than most that London is full of extremely vulnerable people. They may not be old, they may not be sick, but they are poor and hungry, mired in the deprivation that contributes to youth crime.
‘We were aware that many families were already living in food and fuel poverty,’ she says. ‘Some have very limited access to cooking facilities, some parents lack the skills to cook meals from scratch and others, such as single parents who were key workers, didn’t have the time.’
When the pandemic struck, Ford knew that it would be especially hard on London’s poorest families. Volunteering at a food bank, she saw first hand that people were in dire need. So she started crowdfunding for Sunday Best, to cook and deliver at least one hot family meal a week. We’ve all been going on for ages about what ‘we’re looking forward to’ etc etc, but these are people who are looking forward to having a hot Sunday lunch. Oh, and because not everyone in the capital grew up expecting Sunday lunch to be something grey next to a yorkshire pudding, Sunday Best’s versions are culturally appropriate.
‘The feedback from the community has been incredible,’ says Ford. ‘Families are facing food hunger as a result of losing jobs, and living on less money to feed their families. Sunday Best has allowed families to enjoy an important meal together [and] provided respite for NHS night workers.’ Right now, the scheme is providing more than 200 Sunday lunches across south London and wants to expand.
It costs Sunday Best just £5 to feed a family of five, but the benefits are incalculable. Ford knows that this is not a lockdown story – of people stepping up in a crisis, then going back to day-to-day life once it’s all over. For many Londoners, their crisis will never be ‘over’, but having a family meal together even once a week can make a huge difference.