The Everyday Heroes

The frontline heroes that go unnoticed

Usman Bin Omar
7 min readJun 16, 2020

A lot goes unnoticed when your newsfeed is consumed by daily updates on a virus going through our community. These individuals do not seek recognition other than to give as much time as they can to the people around them.

Prepared meals and leftovers from various sources ready to be packed and delivered.

I started volunteering with The Hornbeam Centre in June 2019 as part of a pilot program (at the time) that was hoping to create a group of volunteer cyclists who would collect and deliver surplus food from major supermarkets, and re-distribute them to soup kitchens, shelters, and the café itself.

The pilot soon became a regular part of The Hornbeam operations — dubbed the Good Deeds on Bikes, it was recognised for its efforts by winning the London Mayor’s Volunteering Award for Environment in October 2019.

Regardless of the time & weather, 60 regular cyclists went out, with their bikes, backpacks, pannier bags, and saved tons of food that would have been thrown away.

Good Deeds On Bikes

Even before the UK wide lockdown was enforced on the 23rd of March, many had been informed if they were in the shielding category and had to stay indoors, or were self-isolating after experiencing symptoms. The existing Good Deed on Bikes was re-purposed and volunteers asked if they could do regular pickups of pre-prepared grocery bags or free hot meals and deliver to those in the categories staying home.

Pivoting to meet the needs of a specific scenario is what makes volunteering at The Hornbeam so much more rewarding

The Photography Project

The photography project came about from the need to document what was going on at the cafe and the centre. I believe there is value in capturing these important moments to reflect on once this is all behind us.

I tried to capture the spirit of the volunteering effort at The Hornbeam. To document and appreciate the small acts of kindness volunteers make every day — from the countless free hot meals made in the kitchen to the people who line the cafe at noon, to the cyclists delivering to those shielding or self-isolating due to the ongoing pandemic, I believe each has a story to share.

I felt as if I captured the collective strength of the community, in the hope that we will one day rise above this challenge together.

The volunteers of Hornbeam are the beating heart of the effort to support those self-isolating, shielding, or going hungry. As volunteers they sometimes don’t want to be in the limelight, generally going unheard and unnoticed.. and equally content with the knowledge that they have done their best. Sometimes it’s those small kind deeds that will inspire others.

I took portraits of the volunteers at The Hornbeam — from those preparing the food, organising the meals inside, at the front giving out the meals, those in the collections room, the coordinators, and the cyclists, making sure I captured each part of the process.

It’s about recognizing the importance of our small deeds and the larger impact it has on the lives of people. Our reasons to take part in this effort may all be different but our desire to give a part of us to help someone else out is what binds us together.

I took these photos so they are a reminder of a time when a community pulled together and were there for each other and add to the rich history of Walthamstow. I hope this inspires compassion, humility, and sacrifice as valued principles that should be a lesson for change.

RJ — Working hard in the kitchen over weekends. She had just started working at the cafe when COVID-19 put the country in a state of lockdown. She has now been helping The Hornbeam prepare meals over the weekend.
Eileen — At the front of the cafe, making sure to bring a smile to everyone’s face she interacted with.
Susie — A mum volunteering her time before her kids went back to school
Fran — Helping out Eileen at the front of the cafe over the weekends.
Mel — A lawyer trying to find the purpose for the next phase of her life.
Sophie — One of the coordinators at The Hornbeam. They have been instrumental in making sure the 67 cyclists and the 40 odd volunteers at the cafe are making sure everyone is covered.
Chris — A graphic designer who had recently lost his job due to the pandemic.
Marcus — A painter and decorator by trade.
Collin — A boiler installer who brings round his trailer to deliver to up to 4 households.
Ben — a TA at a local school who was volunteering his time while schools were closed due to the pandemic.
Carol —Packing grocery bags for the cycling volunteers for the following day
Poppy — Her mother made her the “mushroom mask”
Tara — volunteering her time between working from home for a think tank.

The volunteers have so far, at the time of writing, have delivered 2,682 meals & 1052 grocery bags to 115 families in North East London, including 6,322 meals over the counter at the cafe. Each meal delivered or donated is a real person affected positively — as one person puts it as;

‘Can’t put into words what a burden has been lifted from me. I don’t know what I would have done without this’

Phoebe (L) and Grace (R) both housemates helping out at the front of the cafe.
Kate — One of the cyclists that deliver food.
Rho — a cyclist who delivers to a an elderly lady in Leytonstone.
David — In normal circumstances, he would be running the community cafe

What really struck me is the sense of home and the warmth from everyone volunteering. There is a sense of duty to the people in their community. It has brought together people from every walk of life; the tradesmen, artists, teachers, mums, researchers, lawyers, children, to help the other. As humans go, they are some of the most selfless ones.

These small acts of kindness are changing lives, and we should give them our appreciation.

With all that is going around us, its good to know there are people out there who will keep on doing good regardless.