Citizens!' Lawrence Diamond: Why I Volunteered At My Southwark Food Bank

Their new album is fat with tunes, but here's why one of their band members reckons we all need to help the hungry in our boroughs...
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Their new album is fat with tunes, but here's why one of their band members reckons we all need to help the hungry in our boroughs...


Citizens! are releasing their second album 'European Soul' in April. It's a riot of Bowie-esque electronic soul that'll have boys and girls in garish shirts touching each other all summer long...

Here Lawrence Diamond from the band tells us why events in his owncity made him look at volunteering at his local food bank, and why everyone should give it a bash (and not just for karma points)...

Eating on tour can be a harrowing experience. When we toured America on our first album, our food allowance was $5 each (about 3:50). We would stop at certain petrol stations because we knew they did fruit juice at $5, others were $5:50 and they were the devil. Someone would buy a coffee and you’d share the free refill. Our friend Alex who flew out to help drive the van would get crisps to pass round, and then look bemused when the packet came back to him empty. Once at the venue we’d get the evening's meal and wrap up any sandwiches or left over cakes in serviettes and hide them under the seats to see us through the next day. Sometimes someone knew someone in the next town and they would invite us over for a full 3 course dinner. Those were happy days indeed!

While on that tour I watched a documentary by Niall Fergusson that said that parts of Glasgow (my father’s home town) had a lower life expectancy than parts of Bangladesh, with malnutrition a real problem. On returning back to London the press was full of articles on food poverty and starvation, but not in far away places, right here on people’s doorstep.

The Kids Company had seen a 200% increase in the amount of food parcels it handed out between 2012 and 2014. The County Community Project in Cheltenham, probably not a place one associates with poverty and starvation, had gone from sending out 136 Christmas food parcels in 2013 to 450 in 2014. In London, booming, modern, shiny metropolis of the 21st century, I found the Southwark Food bank experiencing increase demand and desire for volunteers quite literally at the end of my road.

It seemed insane, though sadly not surprising, that in a country, indeed a city, that is seen as one of the world leaders in so many things, people were wanting for such basic things as food. In a city that had just hosted the Olympics, has 6 international airports, and pays out more banking bonuses than any other in Europe (sorry bankers, it’s just such an easy exemplifier) people were in danger of starving. The effects of the crash are myriad and picked over daily at length, but the reality for so many people of depressed wages, no wages, and benefit cuts, is that they simply cannot afford to feed themselves or their families.

There is an intellectual argument (you can watch here), that suggests by helping to feed those desperately in need we are actually hiding the problems of the system. That people on the streets starving to death would force Mr Cameron into some kind of action. Perhaps it’s right, and picture the scenes on Downing Street as the angry and dispossessed descended to demand food and water, but sadly although I can understand the logic, I can’t bring myself to follow it. Call it guilt if you want, though it seemed for the many people I volunteered with over Christmas to be more like compassion. Either way the desire to do something overwhelmed, for better or worse, the intellectual arguments for inaction. And in pulling my finger out and getting involved there were a few things I observed that i think are worth noting.

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For everyone, from first time volunteers to those involved in the food bank every day, there was anger and confusion at why the government was not giving more help to people like the Trussell Trust, who provide aid to those most in need. It’s almost not worth asking if Mr Cameron truly believes (or ever believed) his Big Society is working, but those on the ground certainly don’t. As rape crisis centres shut and outreach groups wind down, people like those at the Southwark Food Bank try to get enough money, or hands on deck to simply feed local people. This can’t be right.

However I also think it’s worth noting, that though whoever is in Government clearly has a responsibility to those struggling in society, there is also a responsibility with each and every one of us to ensure people don’t want for basic things such as food. Unless you agree that any kind of charity will ultimately stop the arrival of societal utopia then you have a duty to help your fellow man or woman or child to at least feed themselves. Whatever you think of Cameron, or Milliband, you can’t deny they got a lot of stuff to do. ISIS, Crimea, HSBC, Point Scoring at PMQs, they probably don’t have the time, even if they do have the will, to feed the hungry in your borough. (Or provide extra teaching for those struggling at school, do the shopping for those lacking mobility etc.) We do. I know it’s hard to even just make rent in a city like London but it can make a real difference if you can try and and find some time to get involved in something in your area.

This has a triple positive. Firstly you can see the immediate benefit of helping those who need it. Secondly you get to meet people in your community, make some friends, increase things that sound pretentious but are probably a good idea, like Social Cohesion, and Exchange of Ideas (I.e you might make new pals and learn something). And finally, if everyone is involved in trying to solve the problems in their area they’re going to be smarter, more aware and more politically involved. They’re less likely to take lies and bollocks off of our leaders and our leaders might have to pull their fingers out (humour me on this one). Because if you believe that a vote for Labour is going to make these problems go away, you’re dreaming. Clearly policy and action at the top of the chain is vital to keep good works going, but we all have a responsibility to those we live alongside, and the area we live in them with. It may be true that we’ve got to a point where’s there’s no such thing as society, but we don’t have to accept it stays that way.

Mr Brand has received so much attention for saying we shouldn’t vote, but such a debate boils politics, and engagement down to such a simplistic act. Be political every day of your life (and that word doesn’t have to have anything to do with “Westminster” or “Brussels”), be involved everyday of your life. Then your vote, if you chose to give it, will be better informed. And you’ll realise you can make changes in other ways.

And I figure that whatever my beliefs if i think that there may be people struggling to eat, unable to read, unable to care for their elderly relatives in my community and I could do something to change that then I should try to. It’s like Alex with his crisps in the van. but on a bigger scale and although at the time I’d have argued the toss, much more important.

Check out Citizens! on their websiteFacebook, Twitter, and get their new record 'European Soul' when it drops on April 13th. They've got a launch party at XOYO on the 16th, with tickets available here

The Trussell Trust website is here