Val Barron, Linda Gregory, Edie Hollifield, Beryl O’Hara and Enid Grey with the plaque received from communities they have supported. (Picture: Keith Blundy)

Four Ladies from Churches in the Billingham area of The Diocese of Durham are heading to London this week to meet Jamie Oliver in recognition of their work in helping to support and feed nearly 1500 children during the school holidays.

Edie Hollifield (69), Enid Grey (73), Beryl O’Hara (69) and Linda Gregory (65) will be travelling to London on Tuesday 21st March to attend Jamie Oliver’s CEO Cook-Off as his guest.

The ladies are going along with Churches Together Durham – Project Coordinator Val Barron, contacted Jamie Oliver’s team to highlight the excellent work being done to combat poverty in the North East of England. Val said: “I thought Billingham Church Ladies work seemed to resonate with the aim’s of the CEO Cook-off really well and I am so excited that the event in London recognises the work that volunteers engaged in this kind of work here in the North East.”

The Billingham Church Holiday Club was formed two years ago on the back of the weekly Pray and Praise parent and toddler club at St Aidan’s Church which provides a place for families with young children in the area to meet, play and get a hot meal.

Enid Grey went to a meeting to look at the issues of ‘Holiday Hunger’ experienced by many children in the North East during the school holidays where they cannot access a free school meal. Enid came away enthused and adamant that they needed to act to combat the issue in their area of Billingham. Enid said: “We only had 10 days until the summer holiday started – so we rallied around, organised a venue, set up menus and we we were off running. The response was fantastic and we did more than 500 meals that first summer.

The second year they added another Holiday club in the Port Clarence area of Billingham; a place where such projects are very rare; a place that has very high levels of deprivation.

Edie said: “It’s really deprived down there – they don’t even have a proper bus service, so we decided to open a holiday club there. We got the community to work together with us – it was brilliant. The community told us that groups normally stay a few weeks then we never see them again … they said you have stayed, worked with us and we feel that we have been helped and supported by the Church.

“One little lad came in whilst we were doing the food and all he wanted was a banana because he used to have them but his mum could no longer afford to get them for him!

“At the end of the summer we were presented with a glass plaque to thank us for helping them, that was such an honour.”  “It’s absolutely marvellous to be recognised by Jamie – we are on cloud 9 really – as we just get on with things never asking for anything in return.”

For Beryl it’s her first time going to London.  She said: “I’m really excited, I’m like a little girl – I can’t wait to go on the London Eye and I am hoping that Jamie Oliver will serve me personally – well you can only hope!.”

The Billingham Ladies represent one of a network of activities across Durham Diocese in the past two years which have provided over 10,000 meals, and fun experiences for children and their families in the school holidays.

Beryl O’Hara, Val Barron, Enid Grey, Revd Bill Braviner, Linda Gregory and Edie Hollifield outside St Aidan’s Church Billingham.
(Picture: Keith Blundy)

The Revd Bill Braviner, Team Vicar in Billingham said: “This well deserved, through their commitment and enthusiasm, they not only welcomed, engaged with, and fed hundreds of children and their parents/carers, they also inspired many other groups around our Diocese to do the same!”

Notes:

The Jamie Oliver Food Foundation and UKHarvest are bringing together the nation’s top chefs and the biggest names in UK business for a once in a lifetime evening of cooking, fundraising and feasting. On 21 March 2017, chefs and CEOs will dish up a banquet to 100s of everyday heroes from schools and hospitals, raising money to tackle food waste and food education.

The money raised will be divided equally between the food education programmes of Jamie Oliver Food Foundation & UKHarvest’s food waste reduction initiatives.

Church Holiday Clubs provide a range of activities for children and families from a variety of faiths and none. The activities with a wide range of themes all promote togetherness and community cohesion along with a nutritious meal for everyone attending.

Durham Diocese (and the Billingham Ladies) will be running holiday activity schemes with food for families during the summer holidays this year.