Soup kitchen founder calls for clear government direction on restarting services

Asam Ali and Oli Roxbough load up deliveries at Muswell Hill Soup Kitchen. Picture: Martin Stone

Asam Ali and Oli Roxbough load up deliveries at Muswell Hill Soup Kitchen. Picture: Martin Stone - Credit: Martin Stone

“We’ve been told to close - but not been told to reopen.”

The man behind a north London soup kitchen says clarity is needed from the government about providing Covid-secure services.

Muswell Hill Soup Kitchen founder Martin Stone earlier this year launched the website, which helps the street homeless and the socially vulnerable to access food and support from nearby centres - many of which remain closed because of the outbreak.

He says there has been a lack of clear direction from the authorities on how voluntary organisations can help rough sleepers during the crisis.

On March 25, an email sent by national charity Homeless Link - and signed by Dame Louise Casey from the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), who is head of the rough sleepers task force - told soup kitchens to close.

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The email stated: “It is important that those [centres] that are still open shut immediately to stop the spread of the virus to the most vulnerable.”

Around the country, soup kitchens reacted to statements from the government in different ways - from continuing as normal to shutting down.

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Muswell Hill Soup Kitchen had moved to a takeaway service but adjusted to make deliveries to places where people rough sleeping had been housed.

Homeless Link last week told the Ham&High that services providing food to homeless people were officially exempt from closure as long as they could observe health and safety rules.

A MHCLG spokesperson responded: “Businesses and services supplying food are able to do so, as long as they comply with the guidelines on social distancing.”

But Martin Stone says some centres “closed in utter fear” at the direct email and that there has been a lack of clear direction from the government since.

“It’s time soup kitchens were actually open,” he said.

“The government should say to the soup kitchens of Britain: open again, safely, within guidance. Like cafes have in an open-air environment.”

Muswell Hill Soup Kitchen delivers around 60 meals on Sundays, including to Cranwood Hub - a homeless shelter temporarily managed by Haringey Council under the government’s Somewhere Safe to Stay scheme.

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