The gaps in Tower Hamlets council’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic have been laid bare by Sister Christine Frost MBE as she told councillors that some residents who had not had a hot meal for eight weeks until they contacted Neighbours in Poplar.

You can watch the council webcast of the 22nd June Overview & Scrutiny Committee meeting here with Sister Christine talking from 52m 50 seconds.

For over 50 years borough legend Sister Christine and her Neighbours in Poplar (NiP) team have been working to help communities in Tower Hamlets and they have more than met the challenge posed by the Covid-19 pandemic as have the many other younger voluntary organisations.

By June 19 over 3,000 hot meals had been delivered to those in need across the borough by NiP with a complete absence of fuss, bother or self-promotion.

Neighbours in Poplar volunteer off to deliver meals to needy residents.

NiP has had over 300 referrals in the three months of the pandemic.

During the Overview & Scrutiny Committee webcast Sister Christine was asked to give her views on the issues she and NiP have encountered as a result of Covid-19.

Sister Christine said that in her opinion the council response to the pandemic was not very organised and it seemed impossible to work out who had been given what [in terms of food parcels].

“Do we really know our people?”

NiP volunteers prepare some of the hundreds of hot meals.

She pointed out that the Isle of Dogs resident who had not had a hot meal for eight weeks until their neighbour contacted NiP was not an isolated case and that there are so many people who have previously been unknown to organisations like NiP and this “makes her wonder if we really do know our people”.

The main concerns the people NiP talked to are hot meals, some human company and shopping.

40% of children with no internet access

Sister Christine emphasised that Covid-19 had merely exposed many existing problems, especially the huge lack of internet access, pointing out that at one school 40% of children did not have any internet access at home and that if the young children did not have internet access then older residents would not.

Neighbours in Poplar ready to go!

Confessing that she had enough trouble keeping up with technology herself there was the related problem of even if older residents had internet access and had devices to access the internet how would they know how to use them?

And all this in the shadow of Canary Wharf.

The real risks of many residents being socially disadvantaged through digital exclusion as council services move online are clear.

Tower Hamlets council has been approached for comment. This news story will be updated with their response when it is received.

East End Enquirer comment

It beggars belief that in 2020 anyone should be so forgotten by local authority services that they have to go without a hot meal for two months.

Nobody underestimates the challenges that Covid-19 has thrown at our society but the worry has to be how many other borough residents are still without a hot meal or other vital support.

If any borough should be able to cope with providing support to residents at a time of crisis it should be Tower Hamlets as a significant proportion of the population rely on social services during their normal daily lives (whatever normal means now).

Central government has given Tower Hamlets at least £10m specifically for Covid-19 relief and it would be a good exercise in open and transparent local government if the council published exactly how it was all spent.

In one stroke Sister Christine has done Tower Hamlets residents a massive service by revealing the problems many face – and free of party political spin.

Sister Christine has told it how it is, now it is up to the politicians to step up and deliver.

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