As he talks to SoGlos from his Gloucester home, Hash Norat is full of enthusiasm for what funds from his wing-walk can help achieve, and the next minute overwhelmed with the emotion considering all he has witnessed.
The wing walk will raise money for a garden of remembrance at Gloucestershire Royal Hospital, for those who lost their lives to Covid-19.
He has lost family members of his own in the last 12 months, but as well as holding down a day job, he has also been the enthusiastic, dedicated face of Gloucester Feed the Hungry, a group of volunteers aiming to make sure no one in the city goes hungry.
‘It’s been a difficult, sad and very emotional year for all of us. Working with the NHS Charity Trust, I will be doing a wing walk on my birthday on 20 May 2021.
‘The funds raised will go towards purchasing a large dandelion sculpture at a cost of £1k plus smaller ones to be added to a Commemorative Garden to be unveiled soon at Gloucester Royal hospital,’ said Mr Norat, 54, a father and city resident.
Doctors, consultants, nurses, homeless people, families in need, all became familiar with the smiling face of the proud British Muslim and his team’s trademark compassion as it branched out through the pandemic.
Gloucester Feed the Hungry’s name became legend, from its humble beginnings powered by a group of Muslim women from the Barton and Tredworth area of Gloucester cooking out 50 to 70 meals a day. Many more from across Gloucester have since cooked, baked, and prepared food and delivered it to the door of his home, motivated to help.
‘We have just passed 10,000 meals,’ he said.
Something about its work has inspired a city-wide, ‘one community’ spirit that has crossed cultural and religious divides, forged friendships and spread hope where there was none.
The city council has given Gloucester Feed the Hungry use of a city centre shop and you have just opened as a takeaway. What has been he response?
‘On the first night I thought we would get 30 people, but 67 turned up,’ said Mr Norat, who as a young married man with a one-year-old child also faced homelessness.
It is when he reflects on the plight of those he has met and the generosity of many he has never asked anything of but who continue to step forward, that emotions rise to the surface.
Can you give us just one example of the acts of kindness that continue to allow you to provide food for all?
‘I ordered 40 portions of sausage and chips for our evening programme from Umar Pandor, lovely wife Farida and Mahmood at Coney Hill chippy. I went to pay and was told no payment was necessary. I was truly choked,’ he said.
Gloucester Feed the Homeless’s Facebook feed is full of acts of kindness from across the community and from all ages. Including the incredible efforts of a nine-year old boy who raised funds to donate.
Gloucester Rotary has backed the group, former veterans of the armed forces have volunteered, and a partnership with King’s School which sees its sixth formers cook meals for the cause.
‘If I could give our knighthoods, I would give them to the people of Gloucester,’ said Mr Norat, who is also full of praise for his employer, Unilever, which has generosity donated throughout.
‘At one point we were delivering 12,000 ice creams from Unilever to the two Gloucestershire hospitals over a three-month period for the staff. They had no time to eat, to cook. They told me they just needed something to keep them going.
‘That is what it is about, really – putting smiles back on people’s faces,’ he said, not really answering the question about how he, other volunteers – including his son – have managed to deliver food through the important period of Ramadan.
‘I did lose a stone and a half last year’, he said.
Post wing walk you have other plans to ensure Gloucester Feed the Hungry sustainable, by making it a charity?
‘It seems to be my destiny. My wife sees very little of me, my house is overrun with files, with parcels as we run the operation from our home. We are getting referrals from all over asking if we can help people.
‘I love my job and my employer, but I have to follow this through and run what we have started full time – there is so much demand and so much to do.’
To find out more, including how to donate to the wing walk appeal, visit Gloucester Feed the Hungry’s Facebook page.
By Andrew Merrell