In the heart of Moss Side, Manchester, there’s a shining beacon of community resilience and compassion known as “Keeping It Real 24/7.”
Founded by the indomitable Wendy Simms, this food bank and community hub has become a lifeline for countless individuals and families during challenging times.
Chantelle is the director of Keeping It Real, a food bank based in Moss Side.
Keeping it Real 24/7
When asked to explain what Keeping It Real does on a day-to-day basis, she responded: “It might be quicker to tell you what we don’t do to save time!”
They are an incredible community organisation that covers as large a distance from Wythenshawe, all the way up to Oldham and everywhere in between.
They provide food to people who need it, even cooking too – all in the name of community spirit.
“For us, it’s a nice thing to be able to give back to the community you grew up in.
“Meeting new people, having these great conversations, you can’t beat it. It’s priceless.
“There’s a wonderful sense of community in the area if you look hard enough. I think people have their ideas about Moss Side but it’s a great place, everyone looks out for each other, especially with Auntie Wendy Around!”
Rise in Foodbank Demand Post Covid-19
Chantelle said she had noticed a skyrocketing demand for their help and services post-pandemic, and things are continuing to get worse.
“Everyone is feeling the strain without doubt, even the supermarkets and other organisations that help out are feeling the pinch.
“There’s a real shortage for not just the community, but also for food banks. It’s a knock-on effect for everyone.
Chantelle said that people weren’t always after something to eat either and that people were equally as appreciative for a bit of company, as people have been suffering with isolation post Covid.
Keeping it Real provides hot meals, a lot of time for the elderly, training courses for people looking to get into work, and also chef’s food hygiene ratings.
“Because of the diversity of Moss Side, it’s important we learn about each other’s cultures and the food they eat.
“We put on awareness days, mainly around health, working with the NHS. Also women’s support days, Macmillan Cancer Support coffee mornings, and days out for kids.
“We’re a very proud community in Moss Side and I think some people are afraid to ask for help. They shouldn’t be, we’re here for everyone, and everyone needs a leg up now and again.”
A ‘Giant’ in the Moss Side Community
We spoke to Wendy, described as a ‘giant’ character in Moss Side community
“We decided to set up Keeping it Real 24/7 in 2019.
“When the pandemic started, we noticed a lot of people were isolated.
“I think we first started it off because one of our friends was found dead, completely isolated on their own.
“There were a lot of tragic things happening in the community, so we used the food bank to help people.
“People were struggling to get their cultural food, so we were going door to door knocking to try and find it.
“Stuff like yams and sweet potato, whatever it might be – but people just didn’t seem to have any.”
Wendy realised that food was just the tip of the iceberg and that the community needed help in a lot of different areas.
More than a Food Bank
“The next area we moved into was people’s health, There are a lot of health issues in Moss Side specific to our communities, so we could give people information when they came to the food bank and help them to take care of themselves.”
“As Chantelle said, I think our community is a very proud one, and sometimes people are afraid to ask for help.
“I think because people know we’ve been part of the community for years, for me it’s coming up to 40 years now, they trust us and that’s allowed us to build some bridges.
“Now we do a discreet delivery service too for people who need help but don’t want people to know, so I think we’ve got everyone who needs help covered now.”
“One of the outcomes of our food bank and food handling initiatives is that many individuals express a desire to become volunteers.
“We provide training and also prepare hot meals.
“Our community has some exceptional chefs, especially among the men.
“To elevate their skills, we start by helping them obtain hygiene certificates. We aim to motivate them in this regard.
“Furthermore, we have talented cooks available to assist us when needed, not only for the food bank but also to seek employment opportunities elsewhere. Whether they cook from their homes or elsewhere, it’s always great to have good cooks around”
Wendy is a well-known figure in Moss Side, having worked in her community for forty years now.
She used to run an organisation called Team Bash working with youth during difficult times in Moss Side, when gun culture was running riot.
“I don’t like to speak about that very much, but that’s where it was at the time.
“So, again, it was another thing that I saw.
“And try how to help the youths in our community, and try and find them to get jobs, try and find them to keep out activities as much as they can, whatever their interest was at the time, so we attract them.
“So that was part of, um, that part of the community where everybody kind of know me from then, then, so, yeah.
“Listen, I’m a Moss Side girl forever, you know what I mean?
“No matter what anybody else has to say.
“The Council seem to change the boundaries every time something good happens here, you know, they will say no It’s Whalley Range or Chorlton, so the boundaries are often shifting.
“But you can be sure once something bad happens here, they will say it’s in Moss Side.
“We know what we are and what we’re about, time’s have changed in the area.”
Founded by Wendy, a beloved figure in the community with four decades of dedication, and led by Chantelle, this grassroots initiative has transformed from a humble food bank into a lifeline for Moss Side’s diverse and thriving community.
The journey began with a shared desire for a better youth club in Moss Side.
This transformational journey laid the foundation for what would become the powerhouse of community support.
Currently, Keeping It Real works closely with Lisa to explore ways to support their food bank initiatives.
They are also actively engaged with the local care group, where they seek health champions to address various community issues. Wendy envisions community members taking ownership of these concerns, highlighting the importance of volunteers and health champions.
Health Champion Program
Wendy proudly embraces her role as a part of the Health Champion program, emphasising the significance of sharing knowledge and training within the community.
This collaborative approach, she believes, is the key to overcoming challenges and fostering an environment of support and empowerment.
One of the pressing challenges in Moss Side is the prevalence of health issues like diabetes and bowel cancer, which affect both men and women.
Recognising the role of dietary factors, the food bank emerges as a crucial pillar in the community’s fight against these health concerns.
Lisa told I Love Manchester that at the powerhouse, there are over NINETY different languages spoken.
Navigating this diversity may seem challenging, but Wendy, having lived in the community for decades, knows that it’s about the love and bonds they share.
She said: “In Moss Side, love transcends language barriers and in an unusual way, it brings people together.”
The Faith Network Group
Keeping it Real 24/7 has even won royal approval, after a remarkable day at Buckingham Palace.
Ms Simms had been invited to the prestigious event at Buckingham Palace to mark the Coronation of King Charles III in recognition of her work with Moss Side-based food bank ‘Keeping it real 24/7’.
She went with her son, hoping to get a nice photo with the Prince, but she ended up getting much more than she bargained for!
After a chat, the Prince of Wales pledged to visit the area after Wendy offered an invite to ‘the Rastafarian HQ’.
Prince William’s genuine interest in Moss Side and poverty issues has left an indelible mark, raising hopes for his visit to Manchester in the future.
A recent development that has added to the organisation’s momentum is the acquisition of a food van.
This mobile unit not only facilitates food delivery but also extends assistance to the elderly, equipped with features like wheelchair access. It’s a testament to the recognition and support Keeping It Real receives for its tireless work.
Wendy, in a heartfelt expression of gratitude, acknowledges the dedicated volunteers who form the backbone of their operations.
Their selfless contributions and collective efforts are the driving force behind Keeping It Real’s impact in the community.
Regarding the Rastafarian community in Manchester, Wendy extends her gratitude the TTI executive bench, who provided space at the headquarters.
This hub, affectionately known as the HQ, has become a bustling centre of activity, housing the food bank and even facilitating roof repairs through community efforts.
One notable initiative is the community fridge located in their church HQ, which stores vegetables and items for community members.
This project aligns with ongoing renovations, demonstrating the community’s commitment to progress.
Though they lack an online fundraising platform, Keeping It Real welcomes offers like yours to fundraise for the food bank.
Their primary focus remains on benefiting the community they hold dear.
In conclusion, Moss Side’s community spirit is alive and thriving through the relentless efforts of Keeping It Real 24/7.
Wendy, Chantelle, Janet and their dedicated volunteers continue to work tirelessly towards building a better and stronger Moss Side where love, unity, and community spirit reign supreme.