Feeding the hungry at the Norwich Night-time Market
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By Danielle Hancock and Holly J. McDede
You might be forgiven for thinking that The Norwich Market Place on a weekday night is not a vibrant social hub, nor the best place to stock up for dinner. However, night time at the Market sees a remarkable change as one corner of the stalls switches over, from their daytime role of selling food to an altogether different purpose, as they stock up to give it away.

It’s not a cold night if you’re just passing through the city centre. But it is chilly and the streets are mostly empty. But at the foot of St Peter Mancroft there’s a crowd of people gathered round a few dark stalls, chatting and drinking tea, while the St Peter Mancroft belles ring. It feels like a gathering at someone’s house, except there’s no house, just a group of people hanging around in the cold.

“I’m personally on a rusty old tub on the broads with my two dogs and it’s about a 5 mile walk to get here and if I didn’t get here then I wouldn’t have anything to eat,” Richard Green, one man getting some soup at the stall, explained.

Green is a trained aircraft engineer. But when his marriage broke down and he lost his job, he lost all stability and turned more and more top alcohol. Now he lives on a boat in the broads. For the past five years he’s come to rely on the food stall. In many ways his story is not unique. Sue Benson, who has been volunteering at the stall five years now, says the people and the mission haven’t changed.

“We’re still feeding homeless people,” she said.

Recent surveys exposing East Anglia as the child poverty centre of England, and a host of food-bank services have opened up in recent years to keep up with demand. Supplementary charities like the foodstall are vital.

If there’s extra food, Green will give some to other homeless people scattered throughout the streets who don’t make it to the Norwich Night-time Market.

‘I haven’t got any money, basically,” Green said. “Any money I do get I have to pay my moorings. I wouldn’t say that most people here are on the streets, because they’re not,” Green said. “I take food from here if they’ve got it, and I go handing out to people on the street myself I’m personally on a rusty old tub on the Broads with my two dogs and it’s about a 5 mile walk to get here and if I didn’t get here then I wouldn’t have anything to eat.”

Green says this is his nearest daily food stand, since the Salvation Army unified several church food stalls from across Norfolk to this one spot. Whilst this may have taken away the service for some it allows this food stall to stay open every night.

Chris Macknamara uses the food stall, even though he’s now got a home.

‘It’s really helpful. I came from Japan, I had no money or anything, I was homeless for a good while. And I found this place really helpful because I had no money for l7 months,” he said.

John Townsend started using the food stall around the same time as Macknamara, and they’ve become friends. Townsend said that most people here value the city centre spot for more than the meals on offer.

“It’s sort of a community thing, sort of to socialise believe it or not,” Townsend said.

“Sometimes I don’t have food so I come out just to get some, or I come just for the company to tell you the truth. It is totally worth it to know that we can be around other people that have similar stories that can help us understand our own story and then move forward in our lives,” Macknamara said.

On a Friday night at the Night-time Market, the crowd is even bigger, with over 30 hungry faces, loud chatters and the occasional hungry dog barking. Understandably, amidst this hunger there’s some chaos.

“You have people who go out of their way to help people, and yet you get very harsh, very rude, people craving everything else, and demanding. It’s the case of she who shouts loudest wins,” Townsend said.

Tonight, the menu is tuna, cheese and meat sandwiches, soup, tea and coffee – the same as every other night. Sue Benson says most people don’t come here for the sense of community that they get. They come because they’re hungry.

“I think they basically come for the food. Some people haven’t eaten all day, so they need the food,” Benson said.

For her the hardest part is exactly that things don’t seem to change. Sometimes people need the food stall so much that she doesn’t have enough tea and food for everyone.

“For me, it’s the young people. They get skinnier and skinnier and poorer and poorer. It’s very humbling, and Julian and I often go home crying every day. It’s about the same as it was a few years ago,” Benson said.

The volunteers start to pack up and leave. There’s no food left, and it’s time to head home. Some of the homeless stay around a bit longer just to talk. They have no where else to go. Soon they’re gone too and the food stall shows no signs of tuna sandwiches or tea. That is until tomorrow, when the hungry will be back.

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