Church Action on Poverty’s local group in Sheffield has found a way of using a breakfast to amplify the voices of people in poverty – and to challenge local decision-makers to take action. Group member Briony Broome explains.
The Civic Breakfast is an annual feature of Church Action on Poverty in Sheffield’s calendar. It’s a creative way of bringing a wide range of people together to share food, learn about each other, and focus on shared concerns.
The Breakfast enjoys the welcome support of the city’s faith leaders, and over the years it has been attended by a wide range of Sheffield’s key decision-makers, as well as frontline agencies and charities. However, the most valuable contribution comes from individuals who come and tell us how life is for them, without statistics and without spin.
Their stories are too important to remain unheard, and their words are the ones we take with us when we leave.
Each breakfast has a theme. Past themes have included food poverty and tackling high-cost credit. This year, we discussed the impact of living in poverty on children and families.
The key to a successful event is the planning, so usually two or three members of the local Church Action on Poverty committee volunteer to pull the event together once the theme has been agreed by the committee. The priority is to identify speakers who can bring relevant knowledge and insights to the discussion, and we often ask them to suggest someone they know who might be able to come and tell us about their own circumstances. We create a guest list of around 30-35 people that includes civic dignitaries such as the Lord Mayor, church leaders from all denominations, and senior managers from across the statutory sector.
Timing is everything. On the day of the Breakfast, we arrive to prepare the venue and welcome guests from 7:50am. We have a seating plan which hopefully gives our guests a chance to meet new contacts, and they have time to chat as they collect and eat their food.
The chair opens the formal session at 8:30am with prayers, and introduces the speakers – who usually have around 10 minutes each. There are questions and comments until the chair sums up, then we have closing remarks and a blessing. Our guests leave by 9:30 at the latest, and one of the reasons the event is well attended is because our guests know they will have a prompt finish.
Most of all, we hope our guests feel that the time they have spent together has been useful and thought-provoking, and perhaps allowed them to see things differently in the way that Debbie and Rob describe:
Having attended my first Breakfast this year, I was struck by two things – firstly the stories people contributed that made the headlines of newspapers real, and secondly it makes those of us who are busy, stop and think about what really matters – human beings – and the fact that poverty isn’t a given, it’s a human construct – we can all do something to challenge poverty if we choose to.That’s what was useful – and the networking.
Debbie Mathews, CEO of Manor and Castle Development Trust Ltd
It is encouraging to hear that the work and words of various food poverty groups are being channelled into the right people at the local authority, and these findings are being seen as important and influential when exploring funding of projects and other pieces of work.
That there were significant local authority people present has to be encouraging as we, together, continue to champion those who find themselves on the edge of society and in the position of great poverty.
Rob Drost, Chair of Sheffield Foodbank Network