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Interview: Edie Hollifield, Play and Praise leader

02 June 2017

‘We got the community to work together with us, and it was brilliant’

Keith Blundy

I am a retired lady, and help with others at a Play and Praise group on Wednesdays at St Aidan’s, one of the five churches that make up the team parish of Billingham [near Stockton-on-Tees]. I’m not ready to sit back in a twinset and pearls.


I’ve been various things. I worked in a factory — I enjoyed that. I was working in a garage selling petrol when I met my husband. He was a mechanic, and that was 45 years ago. We’ve both just turned 70. It’s been a hectic time, with two 70th-birthday parties. I know it’s only a number, but you have to celebrate, don’t you?


Enid Grey, one of the team who helps run the group, was contacted in 2015 by Val Barron, a development worker for Com­munities Together in the Durham diocese, and asked if she would attend a meeting about hunger in the diocese, especially during holidays — particularly during the six-week break, when children who are on free school meals would be without a main meal. Enid returned with the info, and it was decided that we would carry on with the Play and Praise during the six weeks’ holiday — and we’d supply a two-course meal to all who turned up, be it child or parents.


It is so easy to say that schools should feed chil­­dren during holiday time, but how would it be done without children being discriminated against by other children because of it?


We had only ten days until the summer holiday started; so we rallied around, organised a venue, set up menus, and we were up and running. The re­­sponse was fantastic, and we did more than 500 meals that first summer.


The second year we started a holiday club, and cooked lunches in the Port Clarence area of Billing­ham. It’s a small com­munity originally built for the ICI shipworkers, but now, unfortunately, they haven’t got a lot of work, and it’s really deprived down there. There’s a food­­bank, but if children move there, they’re late for school because they’ve no bus.


Parents were coming with the children, and we didn’t say to anyone: “This is for your child.” One lady who came did say she sometimes goes without so that her children can have a bit a more to eat.


They’re a lovely group of people. We got the community to work together with us, and it was brilli­ant. They told us that groups nor­mally stay a few weeks, then they never see them again; but we’d stayed, and worked with them, and they feel helped and supported by the Church. But they’ve not just sat back: they wanted to be involved and help with what’s happening.


At the end of the summer, we were presented with a glass plaque from them to thank us for helping them, and that was such an honour. And it’s absolutely marvellous to be recog­nised by Jamie Oliver, and invited to be guests on his CEO CookOff. We’re on cloud nine, really, as we just get on with things, never asking for anything in return.


Val helped to fund us, with help from the diocese; so, during 2015 and 2016, we served more than 1500 hot meals during the main holidays. We hope to do this again this year, if we can get funding. We’ve already started asking different outlets. People are very good and very generous, and when they hear that other people are being generous, they want to help, too. Something always turns up. We will need about £2000 to cover food; and we also put on games, as we have older siblings coming as well.


The food is usually a cooked dinner, something like mince and dump­lings, or chicken and veg, or pasta bake, all followed by a pudding and something to drink. Jam roly-poly and custard was a favourite. Last time, we managed to get some fresh fruit donated to us, and that got passed around. One little lad came in while 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.


We have a good team of about 15 helpers. Linda works out our menus for us, and what food we need. It’s the preparation: you’re preparing for days before, though some things have to be done fresh on that day.


God is good all the time. All the time, God is good.


I don’t have very good memories of school dinners. There was lumpy mashed potato, and, horror of horrors, gooseberry tart. Yuck! There was a dinner lady going round on patrol. I told her: “I don’t like goosegogs,” but she said: “You’re not going out to play till you’ve eaten it.” I got my own back — I was sick all over her shoes. Isn’t it stupid to force a child to eat some­thing they don’t like? Gooseberries are my husband’s favourite, and he keeps asking when we’re going to have them; but I don’t even want to handle them.


We used to have fish with some vegetables, sometimes, and the potato was OK if you mashed it yourself before you had a mouthful. But, sometimes, it was pink because they mixed swede with it. I used to love the custard we had there. It was a bit like Angel Delight would be, very nice — and there was a treacly tart which must have had cornflakes sprinkled on it with Demerara. Very nice. I’ve got a sweet tooth.


I like cooking pasta, and I do like my roast dinner — you can’t beat that, especially lamb and mint sauce. I always like a good mixed grill in the morning: yum yum!


I go to Keep Fit on Tuesday evenings, and do exercises to fast music, because you’ve got to keep your brain ticking over; and I like to go to bingo. We like walking.


My first experience of God was at Sunday school, where we heard about the parables. I’m a regular churchgoer and lay as­­sistant. Once you start to go to church, you find other things happening there. A lot of people go to a service and leave, but if you start making the tea for people who want to stay and talk, and take on little jobs, they build up. We’re raising funds for our hall’s heating with a sing­­along tonight; so we’re setting tables up and doing meals for that: white table­­cloths and glasses.


Our four grandchildren take up a lot of my time. We had two of them today so that their father could get to work on time. I go snail-hunting with them, and all sorts, getting them interested in things. If you don’t point things out to them, how will they learn about them? If we teach them to look after animals, hopefully the world stands a chance. If we teach them to look around them, there’s a better chance of them having a different outlook.


Respect and responsibility are the two Rs that are disappearing from the world. Respect for other nations and other faiths — it’s a two-way street. Then you’ve got tolerance.


I enjoy music of all sorts, and prefer the radio at times to the telly — and I’m not afraid to turn it off rather than watch what they class as enter­­tainment. Television has its place, but with younger people it’s on all day. You see people with their children, and they’re on the iPad, and no one is talking to the child. Modern technology will come back to bite us. A child is like a sponge — they absorb everything.


Or their parents are always on the phone, and they’re not learning anything. We find that at Play and Praise: we have a quiet moment — a little God-slot — and parents say: “I’ll just see if anyone’s rang me.” I think: “Can’t you just put it away for 20 minutes?” But the phone’s glued to them.


Peace, peace, peace is always in my prayers; and goodwill and respect among nations.


I’d choose to be locked in a church with Jacques Cousteau. We haven’t travelled that far: the farthest is Jersey, which we really enjoyed, but there’s still plenty in England we haven’t seen yet. Cousteau was a marine explorer during the 1960s, and had a boat, Calypso. He was a supporter of looking after sea life, and helped develop the diving aqua-lung.


Edie Hollifield was talking to Terence Handley MacMath

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