In February this year, East Ayrshire Council set a balanced budget for 2019/20 with a focus on tackling poverty and ending loneliness and isolation.
As part of the Budget, £0.250m was committed to finding a sustainable way to provide free meals during school holidays, tackling holiday hunger experienced by children and their families and developing sustainable dignified food across East Ayrshire.
An important part of our approach is the Activity Holiday Programme. The programme began two years ago and runs during the school holidays providing a free, healthy packed lunch to every child who attends a fun activity delivered by Vibrant Communities and partners including Centrestage, Barnardo’s and Yipworld.
The programme has grown year on year, with 5000 lunches being provided to children by the Council’s Catering Service during the first summer programme to 14,000 free lunches during 2018. This year the number of free lunches distributed is expected to rise to 20,000 and with the recent Easter activity programme the most well attended yet seeing 5055 lunches distributed, this could prove to be a conservative estimate.
Councillor Douglas Reid, Leader of the Council said: “The holiday activity programme has been increased this year to include the Easter holidays, six weeks of the summer holidays and the October week. Our Catering Services are planning to provide 20,000 free meals this year during the school holidays but will be ready to provide further meals if required. The focus for young people will be the fun activities but each child participating with receive a healthy packed lunch. This is the most inclusive and positive way to engage with families over the holidays.”
The success of the activity programme cannot be underestimated however; the Council recognises that there is more to building sustainable and dignified access to food in our communities. East Ayrshire Council, with partners including Fareshare, Centrestage and the CVO, are determined to work together to tackle food poverty in a dignified way and ensure that no child in East Ayrshire goes to bed hungry.
Councillor Reid added: “During the Easter holidays we also made a connection with Centrestage’s food project; children, young people or their parents could take a prepared meal home on a take what you need, pay what you can basis. Thanks to Scottish Government funding, 6,114 portions of food were delivered to activities across East Ayrshire and 329 adults and 403 children benefitted from these healthy, nutritional meals at home.
“We are determined to further expand this joined up work and it has become very clear that we all have a common goal. We have created a Food in Communities working group to ensure that best practice is shared and that we find new ways to tackle food poverty, that surplus food is utilised and cooking skills are improved. An interactive map has been created that plots where and when our residents can access food support helping to improve access and removing stigma for those in need.”
There are a number of initiatives that are being developed by the Food in Communities group including a ‘community pantry’ in local communities that would be run by community volunteers and the development of cooking classes run by various partners.
The Catering team has been running the very successful ‘I lunch’ programme that engages with local families teaching them how to prepare and cook nutritious meals. This work complements Centrestage’s Eat and Train programme that operates throughout East Ayrshire and provides nutritional advice and cooking skills to parents and children in our schools.
Logan Primary School is at the forefront of dignified food provision within East Ayrshire operating a successful pantry system, providing cooking classes to children and their parents through Centrestage and keeping chickens and growing fruit and veg within the school grounds.
Councillor Fiona Campbell, Cabinet Member for Skills and Learning said: “Logan Primary is a very good example of dignified food support. Head teacher Denise MacColl has built strong relationships between the school, local groups including Centrestage and the community.
“Children and their parents are taught how to cook, how to grow fruit and vegetables and Denise has even introduced chickens that provide free range eggs for the school and the community. A pantry also runs weekly within the school where people can access surplus food, taking what they need and paying what they can, helping to tackle food poverty and ensuring that our young people and their families are supported.
“Access to nutritious food is key to ending child poverty and will ensure that our young people can reach their full potential. If you nourish the body, you nourish the mind.”
Fiona McKenzie, CEO at Centrestage said: “We have been developing and delivering our Dignified Food Provision model across Ayrshire since 2015, followed by Eat And Train in 2017.
“We are delighted to be working with East Ayrshire Council teams and wider partners to ensure that there is no need for children and families experiencing food insecurity to go hungry, not just during school holiday periods, but year round.
“Our team prepared and supplied over 6000 portions from surplus food to families requiring support across the two week April holiday period alone and our wider work in partnership with Denise MacColl and Logan primary takes integration of the model to a new level and we are so proud of everything that is being achieved by this incredible community.”