Peckham charity celebrates 35 years of ‘life-changing’ support

This week a charity celebrated 35 years of “life-changing” support for people who experience poverty in the community. 

Pecan, based in Peckham High Street, was launched on June 12, 1989, by six churches committed to social action to address unrest caused by poverty.

Pecan began as an organisation focussed on tackling unemployment, with initiatives including a launderette on the Gloucester Grove Estate. Today, the charity runs two food banks, Peckham Pantry and Southwark Foodbank, a community space, Together, women’s services and employment support.

Pecan’s head of services, Deborah Hayman-Nkhoma, 39, from Downham, Lewisham, said: “It’s a lovely place to work run by a really motivated and hugely dedicated staff team, many of whom started as volunteers or clients.”

Still running under the founding mantra of ‘Kindness, Belief and Hope’, Ms Hayman-Nkhoma said the charity is rooted in the community and constantly adapts to its changing needs.

Letterpress Community Day at Pecan with Nice and Graphic (Picture: John Iona)

She said: “Demand for our services has massively increased across the board. 

“Foodbank usage spiked during Covid and hasn’t really come down.”

Each week Pecan’s foodbank sessions see between 70 and 120 people. Since January, the charity has supplied food parcels to 1000 households, equivalent to 3000 people. 

At the same time, Ms Hayman-Nkhoma said, the charity has witnessed a rise in complex mental health cases and loneliness, which led to Pecan launching its latest project, Together Community Space.

The initiative operates as a café and warm space, a community venue for free creative courses and workshops, and hosts awareness events throughout the year.

Pecan’s Southwark Foodbank (Picture: Julia Hawkins)

“We’re finding that more and more people just need someone to talk to, we are that space and our door is always open”, Ms Hayman-Nkhoma.

One of Pecan’s broadest programmes is its Women’s Service, the only service which has funding to cover more than one borough.

Ms Hayman-Nkhoma said: “The basis offers support to any women in Southwark and Lewisham who face multiple disadvantages.

“One strand supports women who have experience of the criminal justice system and the other is women in the community.”

According to Government data, women are more likely to serve shorter sentences in prison.

Pecan set up The Laundrette on the Gloucester Grove Estate to tackle unemployment in the 19080s (Picture: Pecan)

Ms Hayman-Nkhoma said: “This might sound like a good thing. 

“But, for example, a woman we worked with was trafficked and she attacked the man who was keeping her in a flat. She was put in prison for three months and nothing happened to him.”

The charity worker said Pecan works with women who have spent time in prison for stealing nappies or baby food or have been victims of domestic violence and lashed out at attackers.

She said: “When women are sent to prison they lose their benefits, their children might go into care and they lose their job.

“They also make new connections in prison which can get them into trouble when they are released.

Peckham Pantry (Picture: Julia Hawkins)

“At the same time their children are going through care – statistically children in care are more likely to end up in the criminal justice system. So it creates a huge cycle.”

To tackle these issues, Pecan offers six months to a year of one-to-one advocacy which includes housing and employment support, wrap-around care, childcare support and counselling.

But, charities across the capital are struggling as cash strapped councils axe funding and tighten budgets.

Ms Hayman-Nkhoma said: “With fewer funders and less money, in the coming years it’s going to get trickier and trickier to fund our projects properly and safely.”

Summing up the charity’s work on its 35th anniversary, Ms Hayman-Nkhoma saId: “What would happen is Pecan wasn’t there.

“We have helped thousands of people with life changing support over the years- even if that’s just coming in for a cup of tea.”

Pictured top: Image shows an early picture of Pecans Job Club (Picture: Pecan)

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