Poverty and the pandemic: How a Lambeth charity has stepped up to the plate
-by Marion Weaver
Rev. Gail Thompson (centre) CEO of Millennium Community Solutions, with recipients of phones distributed to organisations helping vulnerable and isolated people.
In March 2020, the charity Millennium Community Solutions (MCS) started a project providing food to Lambeth residents in need – and demand has been through the roof.
Like many charities, MCS’s funding was hit badly by the pandemic, reducing their income by 75%. The move to virtual events in lockdown stopped them renting out their halls like Southwyck Hall to charities, a key source of their income.
But the charity told Lambeth Life they have kept going – giving out 8641 hot meals to 2800 addresses since April 2020, 3150 grocery bags since last November. And they’ve provided 259 hot meals and food parcels a week by partnering with the Healthy Living Platform charity.
MCS partners with organisations to provide food parcels, befriending services, and tech education to marginalised groups, and phone distribution, digital access and assistive technology to the elderly and disabled.
According to the charity, a major inequality in Lambeth exasperated by the pandemic is the barriers faced for disabled people accessing the internet. The problem leads to social exclusion and unemployment.
Reverend Minister Gail Thompson, CEO of MCS, highlighted the problem that MCS is the only Lambeth charity offering assistive technology, like tablets and voice recognition, and support to use it, to disabled people.
The shortage of the specific service seems especially frustrating when adjustments and support can be simple and inexpensive: “A braille keyboard costs £30,” she said.
An author and beneficiary of MCS, whose disability left him unable to use his keyboard, didn’t know about the voice recognition on his computer. All it took was a simple explanation of the software to let him write his book about Guyana.
Rev Thompson – who is a retired Jazz musician and a St.Thomas’s Governor – was frustrated to find that social services and a major Lambeth disability charity had no data on how many disabled Lambeth residents use the internet.
She said Lambeth council and the government do not put enough funding into improving digital connectivity for the disabled and elderly.
“There are just as many disabled people as there are people with mental health issues, but for some reason, disabled people are invisible,” she said.
“I want to talk to MPs and councils about policy changes on disability and digital engagement. Policy change is my goal. Acknowledgement is my goal.”
The charity leads an employability consortium and is encouraging businesses and organisations to join, and gain access to its funding and premises to tackle inequality issues in Lambeth.
This June, the charity will launch another project: workshops on tech skills and coding for young people from underrepresented groups.
Covid-19 has exposed deep inequalities in Lambeth, for marginalised groups including disabled and vulnerable people. Thankfully, community organisations have been ready to step up to the plate.
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