Throughout the school summer holidays, churches in Lydney were busy providing a weekly meal to families. Jane Penny of Churches Together in Lydney shares how this simple initiative opened up opportunities for connection and friendship.
“Some time ago, I, was invited to an open space forum by HCP Gloucestershire. It was a fantastic gathering, very well organised and was attended by numerous other churches and organisations across Gloucestershire. The aim was to develop ways to feed and connect with families over the summer holidays.
“As the Community Families Minister at Churches Together in Lydney, I knew there were families in our community who would benefit from support with food but we needed help with paying for it and a physical venue in which to host it. Through a contact at the forum, I was introduced to Ruth, who manages the Children & Families Centre in Lydney and we discussed options for using the Centre as a meeting point. It was in an ideal location, being next to a local primary school and had the space and facilities for us to prepare, cook and serve meals. Ruth kindly offered the space at no cost to us once a week.”
Jane continues, “With the food and ingredients being fully funded by Lydney Town Council and the free provision of the Centre, plus the help of a team of volunteers from churches in the area, we were able to run our Community Meals sessions every Wednesday throughout the school holidays.”
While providing a shared hot meal to vulnerable families was the primary aim of the initiative, Jane soon realised that the support went far beyond the food.
“The food gave people a reason to come, particularly those who wouldn’t normally accept help or who were anxious about going into the Centre. However, we noticed that it wasn’t just the food they looked forward to each week, but the friendships and contact with others. For example, we had one mother who brought her young baby. She had just separated from the baby’s father and was feeling isolated. At the meal, she sat next to another mum who had experienced something similar and was able to share her experiences. She even held the baby so the mum could eat her meal with both hands. It was lovely to see new friendships grow as the weeks went by.”
I was struggling to stay afloat.
One mum who attended says, “During school holidays, I was really struggling to feed myself and my kids. I found myself skipping meals or eating my children’s leftovers because of the rising costs of living. I was struggling to stay afloat. I saw a poster on my local community page about a local project where I could get myself and my children fed without judgement or shame.
“The meals were healthy, tasty and well prepared, and there were opportunities to take whatever food was leftover home. It was a lovely, warm, safe and welcoming environment where my children had the opportunity to play and connect with other people from the community.
“It was a blessing in disguise and helped release the stress of where a hot meal would come from or how I could afford to pay for it. It helped so much and I would go again and certainly recommend it to anyone who would benefit from the service.”
The service was provided by Churches Together in Lydney – which included volunteers from King’s Arms Community Church, Lydney; Holy Trinity, Primrose Hill; St James’ Church, Bream; and URC, Lydney – and while the families who came for the meals were not connected to any church in particular, Jane explains that some appreciated prayer support.
Jane says, “One day, a grandmother who brought her young granddaughter for the meals opened up that her father was dying. One of the team was able to quietly pray with her – it was good to know we could offer comfort this way.”
While the full provision was free to anyone who came, Jane says that parents often wanted to contribute in some way. “We didn’t need any food, but one mother brought a blackberry crumble, made using blackberries she’d picked. It was a lovely gesture and demonstrates how people have this need to connect and feel part of a group.
“Our last Wednesday group was the same day as our holiday Messy Church session, and some of the families came to that who had not been before, which was lovely to see. We have since invited everyone to our regular toddler groups and Nature Tots, which we hold in the park. There seems to be a stigma about needing help or even going into the Family Centre, and we want to break down those barriers. So, we are now exploring different options to bring people together on a more regular basis, not just in the holidays.
“It was a busy summer, but greatly rewarding and really didn’t feel like work at all.”