Meet the UEA students supporting the local community in lockdown

The organisation aims to help people in need with food, medicine and other support services

A group of UEA students and alumni have co-founded West Norwich Helping Hands (WNHH), an organisation that aims to help members of the local community in need of food, medicine and other support services.

Eddie Gell, who is studying MSc Business Management, set up WNHH in March. Patrycja Poplawska, who is studying BA Law, joined the group in June, and founded the No Longer Strangers (NLS) project. This works within WNHH, reaching out to BAME and immigrant communities in need.

The Norwich Tab spoke to both of these students about their organisations, and how the recruitment of students and graduates has played a huge part in connecting the Norwich community across generations and other barriers.


When was WNHH founded?

Eddi: WNHH was founded in March 2020, by myself and a man called Chris after we met in a Norwich COVID-19 group and realised we were in the same postcode.

Patrycja: I joined WNHH in June. I joined as a member of the admin team however I quickly began chatting to the former leader of the group about setting a new project which focussed on championing BAME and immigrant communities. Being Polish this hit very close to home for me and so we decided to go for it and No Longer Strangers was born. NLS focuses on cultural education and uniting communities.

What inspired you?

Eddi: We wanted to help and we felt the most effective way to do that was locally, especially as I don’t drive and it’s a lockdown!

Patrycja: For me, it was my personal experiences as an immigrant in the UK as well as the experiences of my friends. My friend group has always been very diverse and so I have always been very connected to a lot of cultures. Because of this I have heard many stories about how they or their families have been mistreated, ranging from being played by landlords and employees to being bullied at school because their packed lunch was weird. It pains me to think about what my family and friends have been through because of their background and it hurts even more when I realise that unfortunately this is not an uncommon occurrence. One thing I have learned is that oppression is very nuanced. It is not always visible; sometimes it is hidden in microaggressions and actions which have overtime become socially acceptable. This does not make it okay. So, what I wanted to do with No Longer Strangers is create a platform which champions those cultures so kids are not bullied, while also creating a comfortable space for their parents to access food parcels or translation services.

How have you balanced the work with your studies?

Eddi: I was writing my dissertation at the same time, which wasn’t easy. I used a bullet journal to keep on track and set aside time each day for each task.
Patrycja: I joined right after my exams finished, so over the summer I had all the time in the world, but recently it has been getting much harder. A lot of our volunteers are also students, which doesn’t help because they often struggle to balance responsibilities, however their passion for the project helps them find a balance. As an example, our social media is run entirely by me – a second year law student who is also on several society committees – and Thea, a first year at a university in London. Nevertheless, we both really love the purpose of our social media and being creative, so making that content is a nice getaway from the books!

What are the aims of WNHH and NLS?

Eddi: Our aims were to reduce food poverty and provide a variety of healthy ingredients and snacks delivered to those who were affected negatively by the pandemic or life circumstances in general.

Patrycja: So, NLS has three branches:

• Conversation: this ultimately means cultural education, and is what our social media focuses on. We want to show people other perspectives through showcasing different religious festivals with the help of UEA societies such as Hindu Soc, to showing recopies and giving book recommendations. We also have some other ideas but more things need to be organised and agreed on before I say anything about that!
• Communication: This aspect focuses on breaking down the language barrier through the use of our Translators Hub. This Hub is made up of almost 30 volunteers and covers around 20 languages. Thanks to this group we have been able to translate our food parcel request form and essential services form so individuals can approach us and ask for help in their native language and all correspondence with them will be in that language. I know from experience that the language barrier can be very draining and difficult to deal with, and this more personal service is not something many groups offer.
•Engagement: Lastly, this focuses on building bridges with different communities and organisation. We are partnered with Norfolk Polonia CiC, and have also worked with several UEA student societies on our social media content. We hope to engage more organisations and societies with time.

How many team members do you have?

Eddi: At our peak we had 50 volunteers, the majority of which were students. I was studying education, but we had students from all degrees and backgrounds helping us out.

Patrycja: Our translators hub has just under 30 volunteers, from a wide range of courses. We have medicine students, law students, politics, English literature, languages…and not just from UEA either! We just had a volunteer join who attends university in Manchester who will be our Arabic translator which I think is so awesome. A couple of our translators have taken on additional responsibilities in relation to admin work, such as managing social media and managing help requests.

How many people have WNHH helped so far?

Eddi: We delivered 1,400 food parcels between March and August. We also did prescription and shopping requests but I don’t know the numbers for that.

What kinds of services do you provide?

Patrycja: No Longer Strangers enables WNHH to provide more personalised services in that, where possible, parcels and other essential services will be delivered by native speakers. In addition, as already mentioned, we have translated forms on our website which people can fill in in their own language. We would also like to provide a more formal interpretation service, where our volunteers assist other organisations as well as help members of the public with translations of eg. governmental COVID-19 guidance, documents etc.

Do you have any plans for expansion/recruitment of volunteers?

Eddi: We’re currently exploring options and researching how best to help the community further and what’s going to be most useful. It’s best to keep an eye on our social media channels to watch out for future recruitment drives – we’re always looking for people with specific skills who want to gain experience in this sector or a specific area.
Patrycja: We are always looking for new members for our team. We particularly are looking for speakers of non-European languages, however by all means we welcome those too; the more the merrier!

What more do you think can be done to help the local community in this pandemic?

Eddi: We need more resources for connecting with other people and reducing isolation, there’s a definite problem with loneliness. From a country-wide perspective; more financial security for students, those on low wages and the self-employed.

Patrycja: When it comes to grassroots organisation, the community in Norwich has done so​ much already. I have said before that the pandemic really has pulled the community together; it is unfortunate that it took such a tragedy to do this but I do think that the compassion we have developed will remain. I think that organisations like WNHH have done everything in their power to help; there isn’t much more they can do in my opinion.