News: Community food bank created from local sports club

Published: 15 May 2020

News: Community food bank created from local sports club

A pioneering community sports club set up by Churchill Fellow Tim Holtam has transformed itself into a food bank and social hub that now serves over 500 people a week in one of Brighton’s most deprived neighbourhoods.

"For people who are vulnerable, strictly social distancing or on low income, we want to make sure they have easy access to healthy, nutritious food" - Tim Holtam, Fellow

The Brighton Table Tennis Club (BTTC) normally welcomes some 1,500 people a week to the 110 tables that it runs in the city’s parks, schools, sheltered housing and homeless centres, a psychiatric hospital and two nearby prisons. Regular users include people with learning or physical disabilities, young people from a Travellers site, looked after children and young asylum seekers.

Now Tim has led the club’s reinvention as a community service for the Covid-19 era. He explains: “For people who are vulnerable, strictly social distancing or on low income, we want to make sure they have easy access to healthy, nutritious food. We also want to connect with our community to support each other during this crisis, give some structure to the day, keep us all active - and we want people to know that, just because we can't be together at the club at the moment, we are still all there for each other.” 

A team of club staff and volunteers has taken over the empty sports spaces and turned them into a food distribution hub for hot meals and food parcels prepared by local charity The Real Junk Food Project Brighton. The disused tennis tables are used for laying our boxes of food. Recipients include those who are most vulnerable in the local community or who are struggling to afford food.

BTTC Volunteer Dan Peters at the Food Hub (photo credit: Alexis Maryon)

“With some people unable to shop because they are self isolating, or having mobility and other medical problems, and for those people who struggle to afford food, the distribution hub is essential,” says Tim. “Anyone coming to the club can pick up this food and take it home. While there are lots of food distribution efforts across the city the need is enormous, so we are pleased to be contributing to the collective effort.

“The club is based in an area which is in the first decile of multiple deprivation,” he adds. “There are lots of older people living in this area, which is characterised by high rise blocks. We know that social isolation is a big problem, and this community is particularly vulnerable to Covid-19 because of age."

“The club also has a large number of refugee players and young asylum seekers, and we are actively keeping in contact with them to reduce the impact of social distancing. While people can't physically get to the club, connecting digitally is a great alternative. With such a variety of shows there's something for most people - we even have a Zoom radio show which plays requests.”

BTTC is now broadcasting 16 shows a week on Zoom - including shows on yoga, fitness and music. During The BTTC Daily Show, players come together for a check-in, singalong, interviews and arts activities. Some 1,200 people have attended these online events. For those can’t access Zoom, staff and volunteers have been given phone numbers to call regularly for a check-in and a chat. 

“For all members of the club taking part in Zoom sessions, there is a sense of knowing that people care,” Tim says. “A structure and routine to the day. Increasing physical activity. Keeping up table tennis skills. Getting to know more about each other. Getting to know different people. We are reaching many people who don't play at the club but live locally so we are getting to know our neighbours better. Once social distancing is lifted we want to keep these relationships. 

Tim’s 2018 Fellowship explored ‘Building Bridges: The universal language and power of sport’ in Italy, Jordan and Turkey. He reflects on the link to his current activities: “The importance of seeing a grassroots community response to a problem was highlighted by my Fellowship. Respond quickly and then grow and refine it - it doesn't have to be perfect, it doesn't have to be original, take what's working and deliver it in your community so that they can feel the benefit.

He concludes, “I think sometimes people can stop themselves from responding out of the perception of the need for perfection which, when you are responding to a crisis, means that those in need can miss out.”

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