Imagine being a family of five living in a hotel room. You’ve got no cooking or washing facilities and no option but to wash clothes in the sink and live off takeaways - it may seem unthinkable, but this is the heartbreaking reality for thousands of households in Birmingham.
After hearing of families being temporarily housed in a nearby Travelodge, Marion Kenyon, 52, from Northfield in Birmingham, organised a picnic so she could sit down, eat with them and ask what she could do to help.
“I was horrified that there were people living in the local Travelodge. It didn’t feel right to me,” Marion, who is chief executive of charity New Start and associate pastor of Hollymoor community church, told HuffPost UK.
Rather than making assumptions about what they needed, which she believes some charities do, Marion wanted to ask them herself and also help them to feel part of a community. Within two days of reading about their plight in the local newspaper, she had organised a picnic for 5 June with five adult families and nine children munching on sandwiches, crisps, fresh fruit and cakes.
It was a simple affair. Marion turned up with her husband, someone from the local children’s centre, and other members of the local community - one of whom had been through the process herself. “She felt like she had to come along as she knew how awful it was,” said Marion. “She wanted to tell them there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Some of the families have been there for months.” They sat outside the hotel in Frankley and when families walked past - intrigued but equally anxious - they invited them to join.
Marion took board games for the children, including a large snakes and ladders set, as well as paper and colouring pencils. “One of the parents said to me: ‘I’ve not seen the children playing like this for ages’,” she recalled.
After speaking with the families, she came to realise they desperately needed places to do their washing and cooking, as they had been washing their clothes in the bath and living off takeaways and Pot Noodles (a meal made using the hotel kettle).
“What was concerning for me is that many are on low incomes, so how can they afford takeaways?” said Marion. “It’s just causing greater poverty by putting them in that situation.”
In June, a report by Birmingham Mail found families had been placed at Travelodges across the city, with some ending up living in hotels for more than a year.
Birmingham City Council confirmed there are currently two households staying in the Frankley Travelodge compared to the 37 households that were there on 5 June. Across the city there are 2,000 households in temporary accommodation, with over 9,000 people on the housing register and just 3,000 properties to let.
Marion said another issue facing families is that the Travelodge is located near a motorway, meaning travel to and from the building is limited unless you have a car. She said one family required transport to get their young child to school and it took over two months to sort out, so the child ended up missing school.
“This is the next generation,” she added. “If children are growing up in a hotel room, that’s not good. And it’s not going to help them in their futures as they’ll think that’s the normal way of being.”
The council’s spokesperson said that it is doing all it can to eliminate the use of bed and breakfasts as temporary accommodation, adding that: “Those living in hotels on motorway service stations [are] being prioritised”. But Marion believes in the meantime there should be pop-up hubs where people can do their washing or cooking, even if there’s a small fee attached. “That would start to alleviate some of their worries and make life a bit easier and a bit normal,” she said. “It’s not normal to sit and have a takeaway every night of the week for food.”
After the two-hour picnic, the families took home bags of fruit, cakes and sandwiches - a welcome change from their daily diet.
Marion hopes to hold more picnics in the future and encourages others to do the same. She said it took a matter of days to organise and didn’t cost much either.
She added: “If nothing else it says to them: we care about you, you’re not forgotten. We know you’re here. We can’t wave a magic wand and change things, but what we can do is come along and be your friends.”
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