Help The Hungry: Hidden victims of lockdown share their stories

Isolation hits hard for people with mental health problems and learning disabilities

David Cohen
Wednesday 24 June 2020 15:27
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Food deliveries from our appeal partner The Felix Project have been supporting the vulnerable throughout lockdown
Food deliveries from our appeal partner The Felix Project have been supporting the vulnerable throughout lockdown

People with severe mental health challenges and learning difficulties have felt acutely isolated during lockdown – and for them, their carers say, the delivery of fresh produce by our Help The Hungry appeal partner, The Felix Project, has been a weekly highlight.

Sonay Onbinon, family liaison officer at Enfield Mencap, says that in normal times her daughter, Gulsen, 35, would attend Mencap’s centre daily where she would do Zumba, play football and cook – but that the impact of coronavirus had forced the centre to shut, leaving her daughter with nowhere to go.

“Gulsen has global development delay [impaired cognitive and physical capabilities], anxiety and secondary cerebral palsy,” her mother says. “It means that she knows people have been unwell from images of people in hospital on the telly but has no idea why or that we have been living through a pandemic. We have to be careful going out because her immune system is weak and she cannot handle a mask on her face as it’s scary for her.”

Sonay, a married mother of three who lives in Edmonton, says that Gulsen missed her friends from Mencap terribly. “She’s upset not to see her friends and doesn’t understand why she can’t. Yet the one thing she has really enjoyed is the delivery every Tuesday of food from The Felix Project. She likes receiving the bag of food for our family and she peers in to see what we have been given.”

In normal times, the Felix produce would be used to cook meals five nights a week for 10 regular Enfield Mencap centre users. “But during lockdown we have taken the Felix produce, divided it into food parcels and delivered it to the doorstep of all 40 members on our list,” says Sonay. “These people have complex needs such as Down’s Syndrome, autism, mobility problems and depression. They need daily support.”

The plight of people with severe mental health problems and learning disabilities is one of the hidden stories of lockdown.

Vicki Nash, of the charity Mind, says coronavirus had “disproportionately affected people with mental health problems”. “Those of us with pre-existing mental health problems have been hit especially hard by measures imposed during lockdown, such as social distancing,” she says. She added that lack of access to food exacerbated poor mental health.

“We recently surveyed 13,000 adults and found almost 60 per cent said difficulty buying food or essential supplies has made their mental health worse. We heard from people shielding in supported accommodation who have had to wait seven weeks for an emergency food parcel.” She put out a plea to the government to “make sure that people with mental health problems have the financial and logistical means to access essential food supplies”.

Pat Stephens, whose daughter Leann, 32, also has global development delay, says deliveries from Felix helped alleviate stress.

“Leann is missing her friends,” she says. “She can’t understand why she can’t go to the centre.”

Three days to snap up a Peter Blake original

Sir Peter Blake stands in front of his mural, of which readers can bid for a section

Readers have just three more days to bid for a piece of Sir Peter’s Blake’s pop artwork, Our Fans, to raise money for Help The Hungry. The auction of the giant mural – which echoes Sir Peter’s design of The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper album and was draped over the London Mandarin Oriental hotel during its 2017 renovation – closes at midnight on Friday. There are 100 fragments, each featuring a famous face such as Ringo Starr and Annie Lennox.

The Independent is encouraging readers to help groups that are trying to feed the hungry during the crisis – find out how you can help here. Follow this link to donate to our campaign in London, in partnership with the Evening Standard.

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