COMMUNITY centres in Bradford have been 'the last hope' for those in need during the pandemic, leading volunteers say.

When lockdown was introduced on March 23, it took just six days for Khidmat Centres to create a plan of action.

Based in the heart of BD7 on Spencer Road, volunteers would normally be chatting to residents reading papers and enjoying refreshments in the canteen; or perhaps helping people with their wellbeing.

But these are not normal times and Sofia Buncy, national co-ordinator at Khidmat Centres, revealed the true scope of services offered during the pandemic.

Since March, volunteers have delivered dry food parcels, cooked up hot food and Ramadan dishes for the asylum seeker and refugee community and celebrated Eid with a gift scheme for local families.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus:

It kickstarted a taboo-busting period poverty campaign and took fears over the use of nitrous oxides canisters during lockdown straight to the top.

One of the most difficult things for the centres was translating the messaging from Government and disseminating that vital information in a way that has the best reach.

Some elders in the local community are still using old Nokia phones from the early 2000s.

When the news of tougher social restrictions came on the eve of Eid-al-Adha, the team stayed up till 3am answering families’ queries about what the rules meant for them and translating it into different languages.

Speaking to the Telegraph & Argus, Ms Buncy said: “That is testimony to the fact of how much we care and how seriously we take care to be accessible.

“For a lot of people, we’re the last hope.

“We are all learning, this is an education for all of us. We come from a place of privilege, we’re able to speak English, we’re professionals. We think everybody has the same access to resources as we do. The way information is shared, how it’s shared, which language is it in.

“You have to have a clear understanding of how different communities function and what the different needs are.

“We’ve been getting conflicting messaging, ideas and it changes so fast. People see you as that figure that has answers. It has been difficult as providers trying to digest the information, keep up-to-date and translate it in a language people understand.

“The pandemic really showed who is holding people together. It was community organisations who kept us going.”

Bradford Telegraph and Argus:

At the nearby Girlington Centre, volunteers have cooked more than 7,000 meals for struggling families.

On top of this service, teams have been picking up prescriptions for the area’s most isolated residents and providing a befriending service as a result of mental health fears.

Councillor Fozia Shaheen, who works closely with the centre, has been one of those taking the calls and liasing with Mind in Bradford to build on support.

After guidelines were updated post-lockdown, the South Asian Women’s Cricket group relaunched, giving a much needed boost to locals.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus:

The Councillor said: “Most of the time it’s about that person feeling able to talk and open up. It’s not normal, people are like, ‘What is going on?’.

“I’ve actually had a focus around mental health and what I’ve felt is the needs growing so much. The community has gone over and beyond.

“Please ask for support, it’s there for you, you’re not alone.”

Bradford Telegraph and Argus:

Councillor Bev Mullaney has described Allerton’s Cafe West and Lower Grange Community Centre as a “lifeline”, delivering more than 5,000 meals to those in need. Cafe West’s volunteers work seven-days-a-week.

Her ward has seen increasing levels of deprivation as a result of the pandemic. Volunteers have helped single parents unable to feed their children for days on end with Cllr Mullaney describing the moment she saw a child “pressed against the window and crying” from hunger.

She’s reported that at least 50 per cent of her ward has accessed support.

Many are now unemployed, working in jobs with a high risk of exposure to the virus and struggling mentally. The wait for Universal Credit to arrive has proved too much for some, she says.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus:

“It’s horrendous,” the Cllr said.

“It’s affected everybody.

“We have been a lifeline, both the community centres. A lot of centres have been doing the same. It’s been good how everyone’s all pulled together.”

Next Thursday, it will be launching its Grubbing the Hub event where people can access free meals at Lower Grange Community Centre. People can also access a free shopping bag of essentials, provided by Morrison’s, by contacting the centre.