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Tales of Covid – PL84U AL-SUFFA

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Waltham Forest at the north east edge of London is famous as the home of footballer David Beckham but is also another outer London residential borough that has seen population changes over the decades. Now, the borough’s demographic profile is well over 50 per cent identifying as ethnic minority with a strong presence over the decades from the Indian subcontinent.

PL84U AL-SUFFA

PL84U AL-SUFFA is a faith-based charity in the borough which was originally set up by a Saira Begum Mir’s family almost ten years ago. The name came from the idea of offering a plate of food to guests in accord with one of the five pillars of Islam, that of offering charity.

Saira noticed that, amongst their neighbours, too many seemed not to have a place to go and eat on the one day of the week — Sunday — when they might be able to rest from work. She and her husband Farooq determined to do something about it and soon, with support from Near Neighbours, the Church Urban Fund, and Muslim Aid together with their local mosque, Faizan-e-Islam, they involved their whole family together with a rapidly growing team of volunteers to provide meals for local residents every other Sunday.

Food Support

Like other Muslim charities in London, PL84U AL-SUFFA offers food and support to everyone in need in Waltham Forest, regardless of race, religion, colour or gender. When the pandemic hit, the charity was obliged to put a temporary halt on the Sunday meals, Saira and her family partnered with 14th Walthamstow Scouts Group to create a food hub offering choices of fresh fruit and vegetables, meat and other essentials. While the Sunday meal service was every other week, the queues which developed at the impromptu food hub soon after the start of the first lockdown in 2020 meant that the family were opening up three times a week to offer essential food to residents.

As one resident put it: “I don’t want to be here, but if I don’t come, I won’t survive.” Others explained how, as self-employed tradespeople, they weren’t eligible for the lockdown grants that the government was offering, and therefore within weeks were facing the stark reality of utter poverty.

By June 2020, Saira was commenting: “The numbers have really grown. We have different faces all the time and we’ve noticed that there are a lot of people from different social backgrounds. This Covid-19 has hit a lot of people because they’re out of work.” Saira has since been awarded with her name on the Queens New Years Honours List 2022, a British Empire Medal, and the British Citizen Award for her outstanding service to the community.

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Thank you for reading. Check out the full Tales of Covid report for more stories.

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