Spending £5 on food for five days - Helen Burton takes up Live Below the Line challenge

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A Pevensey Bay woman spent five days living on just £5 worth of food in a bid to understand the poverty that thousands of Brits living in today.

Helen Burton, a 42-year-old mum-of-two, took up the Live Below the Line challenge at the beginning of May and told the Herald about how difficult she found the challenge.

Helen Burton's food basket

Helen Burton's food basket

Helen took the challenge very seriously and didn’t touch any of the food or stock cupboard ingredients in her home, but instead took her £5 to Tesco and bought a basket of food from the supermarket’s value range to last her for the week. For £5 she managed to purchase bread, sponge cake mix, chocolate spread, spaghetti, mushrooms, an onion, one jar of pasta sauce, two tins of kidney bean, a tin of tomatoes and three cans of baked beans.

She said, “Some people doing the challenge have bought a block of cheese and taken 12p worth off it for a recipe but I didn’t want to do that, because people who are actually living on just £1 a day would not be able to afford to go out and buy a block of cheese.”

Helen was also unable to afford tea bags so drank just water and mint tea brewed from the leaves she grows in her garden.

She is also fortunate to have a large garden where she grows some of her own vegetables and herbs. Helen also have nine chickens which provided her with eggs.

She said, “I don’t know what I would have done without the eggs to be honest. I ate so many eggs over those five day just to fill me up.

“They are a good source of protein but you shouldn’t really eat more than one or two a day. I felt I didn’t really have a choice because I was unable to eat healthily on the money I had.

“I just couldn’t afford fresh food.”

Helen carried on driving her car during the project and says she was weak, tired and counting down the days.

She said, “Obviously, many of the people who are living like this do not have a garden where they can grow food and have chickens.

“Not that the garden gave me much food at this time of year but it did help.

“I also carried on driving my car and I didn’t have all the housing problems.

“I also still had the basics like toilet paper and soap.

“It is really tough to live on £5 for five days and it must be soul destroying to live your live like that.

“There are people living on that amount or less, day in and day out, right here in Eastbourne.”

Local foodbanks are busier than ever, and while they provide an essential service for many struggling to make ends meet, Helen says they are unable to provide people with fresh food.

During the challenge, Helen went to eat at the Real Junk Food Cafe in Brighon and she has been inspired to set up a similar project in Eastbourne.

The Real Junk Food Cafe meets every Friday lunchtime and cooks up feasts from waste food. It gets its supplies from supermarkets and food wholesalers.

Helen explained, “If one bag is broken on a pallet of food then the whole pallet has to be thrown away.

“Also if a supermarket has a punnet of strawberries with just one mouldy berry, they then can’t sell that punnet and the whole punnet is rejected.

“This is food that is fine to eat and that’s where the Real Junk Food Cafe comes in.”

Everyone is invited to eat at the cafe on Friday lunchtimes and gives whatever they can to the project. The homeless and poor are not expected to pay but if people want to give something back to the project they can help with the washing up.

Helen said, “What was so lovely about going to that cafe was that there was real mix of people and money was not at the heart of it.

“You could either pay or not pay – There were no judgements, it was just a lovely place to go for lunch on a Friday.”

Helen, who helps to run a group called Incredible Edible which aims to encourage people to lead a more sustainable lifestyle with community gardens and fruit trees in public areas, is now establishing a working group to set up a waste food cafe in Eastbourne.

She said, “At the end of the week, Incredible Edible held a Pot Luck so that I could relax after the challenge.

“It was then that we decided to set up a working group to make it happen.”

Helen and the Incredible Edible team are now looking at contacting supermarkets and food wholesalers before arranging a venue for the project. They also hope to involve local catering students who may enjoy the challenge of cooking up a meal with random ingredients.

For more information about Incredible Edible or to get involved with the waste food cafe email Helen on ethicallifestyle@btinternet.com.

To date Helen has raised £118 in sponsorship which will go to Action Aid. To add to her total or sign up to the challenge yourself visit www.livebelowtheline.com.

Helen has written a daily blog about her experience which will be published on the Herald website next week. Visit www.eastbourneherald.co.uk to read about her daily struggle and the meals she prepared on just £1 a day.

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