The woman tackling Hulme’s poverty crisis: ‘I give out food packages after being failed by local authorities’

35-year-old Ameera Ramzan runs Heaven’s Angels, the Hulme-based outreach programme providing around 200 bags of food a week to local people in need.

She has gone from pregnant in care at 14, rough sleeping in Piccadilly Gardens, to the founder of the outreach programme. The programme runs on donations from people in the community and luxury supermarket, Marks & Spencer.

Her work began 13 years ago helping rough sleepers.

After a year on the streets as a result of being ‘failed by local authorities,’ she has gone on to dedicate each day to the needs of rough sleepers and more recently, anyone struggling for food.

People you might not typically think would require food banks have needed extra help after finding themselves in sudden financial distress.

In the 15 months that Heaven’s Angels have turned their attention to Hulme’s poverty crisis, this has happened as a result of job losses in the pandemic.

Ammera said: “We get people from all different walks of life. We get people who are employed, people that are on furlough, or because of universal credit cutbacks and benefit sanctions.

“We’re giving 200 bags out between two to four pm, that is a lot for a community to be needing. We’re giving two, three bags out at a time to people. None of these are referrals [from social services] or a social worker, they can just take the food they need.”

There is a degree of shame around coming to food banks, which the group wants to eradicate.

“We had a lady a few weeks ago that was stood around the side of the food bank crying because she didn’t want to ask for food.

“This shouldn’t be happening in this day and age, and people shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help.”

Heaven’s Angels provide food for their users that is fresh and varied. This includes vegetables, sandwiches, meat and even pizzas.

“People get stuck on use by and best before date. If it’s got bad leaves, cut it off and it’s good to eat.

Image: Heaven’s Angels

“I know that they’re destitute, but tinned, processed food isn’t good.

“People deserve things they can make a proper meal out of. We are what we eat, and food is part of wellbeing.”

Ameera is well connected with the rough sleeping community in Hulme and the city centre, housing people as and when needed in her own flat over the years.

Back in 2016, Lee Arnold, a rough sleeper she met around five times, was flagged to her as a dangerous individual on a number of occasions.

Arnold was mentioned to Ameera by her friend, Chelle, (Michelle) who is no longer alive.

Chelle appealed to Ameera, saying: ‘I know him, we’re not safe on this camp.’

Ameera said she called the police and told them she had welfare concerns for him and the rough sleepers he was connected to.

“If the police would have acted when I made the initial phone call when I said we have someone on the camp who is known to the police, then that poor lad would be here today.

“The police went around the tents once to have a look and that was it.”

The next time the police were to deal with Arnold was when he went to an officer in Piccadilly and told him that he had killed someone.

Arnold was released from a medium-level security hospital and in February 2016 proceeded to murder a 19-year-old student, William Lound.

Ameera says that William would still be alive, as would his sister who took her own life following her brother’s death, had the police listened to her concerns.

In Ameera’s experience, grassroots outreach programmes like Heaven’s Angels have been quicker to intervene with dangerous individuals than Greater Manchester Police.

Volunteer Patricia Omahony bagging up vegetables. Image: The Hulme Arch.

In terms of financing Heaven’s Angels, the group has fallen on hard times in the past and had to reach into their own pocket to feed those who depend on them.

“We used to use our own money because we were struggling to get donations from big companies. One time, my husband kind of went mad at me.

“I’d managed to save over 1,000 pounds in a tin for my new corner sofa.

“I was running the food bank seven days a week, and one day my husband looked in the tin and there was nothing left in it.

“My volunteers were kicking off with me.

“I said ‘it’s only a sofa, the money can be replaced.’ People going hungry matters more to me. I’ll always give up things for somebody in need.

“We’d love a van to take families out for day trips. If you’re a mum struggling with four kids you don’t get luxuries like that, we need funding.”

Ameera has applied to take over buildings in Trafford and Hulme but has never got the go-ahead from the council.

Having a sheltered place to hand out bags of food and toiletries would make the job easier and would provide a base to layout tables.

“We’re the ones stood out in the rain giving out food day after day.”

Ameera Ramzan

On Dearden Street in Hulme the group has encountered a number of problems.

M&S donate food in green crates which have sometimes been used by rough sleepers.

M&S offerings in the green crates provide a large amount of the food that is divided into bags by volunteers. Image: Heaven’s Angels.

“A councillor is coming out because they’re saying we’re leaving crates under the flats, when actually there have been rough sleepers under there with duvets using the crates.

Obviously, they’re using them to sleep on.

“On one occasion, we had a lady who was helping to deliver bread to people.

“She didn’t deliver the bread and it was left in Hulme Park.

“We got a lot of nasty comments for this, I won’t mention any names, but it was a group in Hulme.”

Ameera noticed how quickly she received correspondence from the council when other groups complained about Heaven’s Angels leaving bread on the floor.

A further grievance the group has with the council is the inaccuracy of headcounts.

Ameera said that Manchester City Council’s headcounts on evenings do not show the correct number of rough sleepers.

Only one count is performed each evening, whereas Ameera believes that another count later in the night would provide a more accurate number.

“Rough sleepers could be at the toilet or picking up scores [of drugs] when the count’s happening.”

This skews data about how many people need housing support and puts strain on Heaven’s Angels to provide more food and aid than expected.

She says that MCC are quick to jump to complaints about crates being left but will not offer advice or support in getting a permanent place for the group to run the food bank from.

“There are silver canisters of laughing gas in the doorways and bags of rubbish. Will the council blame that on us as well?”

If you would like to donate to the group’s continued efforts to offer mental health support within Hulme, or to donate to their daily foodbank, please message the group’s Facebook page.