Britain today faces the greatest challenge of our collective lifetime. The country that weathered the Black Death and the Blitz is shuttered, locked in battle with an invisible enemy. And vulnerable Britons, old and young, need our help.
London is the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak on the British Isles. We all know someone suffering from the virus, or we soon will. But the impact of the outbreak is more than simply clinical. Our schools are closed, our workplaces are empty and many people are unable to access essential supplies.
A complex epidemiological crisis has become a basic hunger crisis. This is why I am pleased that The Independent is supporting an emergency appeal to ensure that food supplies reach vulnerable and elderly Britons.
We will once again work with The Felix Project, which is setting up a London-wide logistical operation to direct food from suppliers to local hubs and people. I went out in a van yesterday myself, to help deliver the first food parcels and speak to the admirable on the front line of the Covid-induced hunger crisis.
Our Food for London campaign in 2016 sought to tackle the injustices of food poverty, in a country where food waste is rampant. We covered the scandal of hidden hunger in one of the richest cities in the world and we ensured that schoolchildren received nutritious food to start the day.
But now even more ordinary Britons find themselves in need. I am thinking of the pensioner, whose family can no longer come to visit. The child who has lost his free school lunch. And the NHS doctor, who comes off her shift to empty shelves.
I am particularly keen that our appeal benefits Britain’s extraordinary health workers who are risking their lives to care for us. Like many of you, I was immensely moved by the applause that rang out across the country in their honour last night.
At a time when people are anxious, both for themselves and for those around them, we must work to tackle the spectre of food insecurity. This is good for people, but also for society as a whole, not least because it will slow the spread of the virus by allowing at-risk and infected individuals to effectively self-isolate.
Our ongoing commitment to supporting the homeless must also adapt to this new situation, in which those on the streets find themselves especially vulnerable. I am grateful for Prince William’s intervention on this matter and I entirely agree: no one should be sleeping rough at this time of national crisis.
With this campaign for extraordinary times, we will remind readers that many are hungry and afraid. It will urge individuals and companies to donate to allow good quality food to reach the places it is most needed, from schools, hospitals and some of the poorest council estates. And it will support The Felix Project in expanding its reach, so that no Londoner need go hungry.
The Independent is one of the world’s foremost campaigning publications; we have campaigned to save elephants, to stop the transmission of HIV, to help children in warzones and to end homelessness. And this is our most urgent campaign to date, launched by an editorial team working under exceptionally difficult circumstances from their homes, while our offices lie empty.
However we are certainly not working alone, and I am grateful for the endorsements of our campaign by the prime minister, Boris Johnson, and the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, who have both displayed real leadership in this time.
The Independent’s health correspondent, Shaun Lintern, remarked recently that it is precisely in a crisis that a journalist becomes most valuable to society. It is our responsibility to keep you informed, to debunk dangerous rumours, often spread over social media, and to hold institutions to account during this crisis. It is also what has allowed us to identify this urgent need for food supplies within sections of the population.
It is precisely at these moments of crisis that we learn to see ourselves anew. If anything good is to come out of this disaster, let it be a more caring and open society, to follow the example set by the remarkable volunteers at The Felix Project.
I genuinely do not know what will happen next in this unprecedented moment for our country, and for the world. But I have been inspired by the quiet heroism of NHS staff, volunteers and low paid workers. When the history books are written, it will be remembered that in the face of adversity, Britons stood tall.
Evgeny Lebedev is proprietor of The Independent and Evening Standard