29 October 2020
A picture of There must be a solution to end holiday hunger

Charlie Heritage, Sanctuary’s Neighbourhood Partnerships Manager in Banbury, spoke to Inside Housing about the longstanding issue of food poverty and support we provide to families in our communities:

Picture this – a family sitting in their home at 5pm. They’ve had to miss breakfast and lunch because there was nothing available, and now dinner time has rolled around. Both parents have gone without so their children can have soup and bread, and the two youngsters are currently guzzling it down. Tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after that, all look to be the same.

You’d be forgiven for thinking this is Victorian England, perhaps something written by Charles Dickens. But you’d be wrong.

This is happening today, right now, in one of the most developed countries in the world.

There’s not a day that currently passes by where the subject of holiday hunger and free school meals isn’t talked about – but it’s a longstanding issue that affects tens of thousands of families. Statistics released last month revealed that, of 8.89 million pupils in England, 17.3 per cent were eligible for free school meals – that’s more than 1.5 million children.

Footballer Marcus Rashford has been spearheading a campaign to extend free school meals into holidays. His inspiring work and the current pandemic have brought into sharp focus the issues facing families and communities across the country, and the support they need.

Scores of councils and local businesses have backed the campaign, pledging to feed disadvantaged children over the current holidays.

But this alone is not enough. It’s clear we need a long-term strategy and approach to tackling food poverty. It defies belief that, in the 21st century, we are in a position where some children are not having one of their most basic needs met.

As a neighbourhood worker, operating at the heart of communities, I witness first-hand ‘holiday hunger’. Families who can’t afford to put food on the table for their children and the real pain this causes.

For the last three years through my community work for Sanctuary, we have been providing a lifeline for children of families facing hardship during the school holidays across Banbury.

The Play: Full initiative, delivered in partnership with a range of local partners including joint funders Cherwell District Council, offers food and adequate nutrition for children who receive free meals at school during term times, along with wider activities and days out to help bring communities together.

Operating in some of Banbury’s most disadvantaged areas, the project tackles some of the real issues related to deprivation, by improving access and opportunities for children.

Educational trips and activities provide stimulation and learning for children that they are unable to access when not at school while ensuring they get nutritious meals and healthy snacks that would be difficult to get at home.

The model allows us to work with partner agencies across the district at a grassroots level, channelling the support through established relationships to those most in need.

We have provided in excess of 5,000 meals over the holiday periods since the project began and are proud to be doing so again this half-term.

But this is just one example - just one area of the country where we’re seeing the real hardship faced by families who are unable to put food on the table for their children during school holidays.

As a charity and housing provider, we are doing all we can in communities across the country to tackle holiday hunger, and while we’re not alone it’s not enough.

We’ll continue to support those families, as we have up to now, through the current crisis and beyond, but the message is clear. The government need a plan.

It’s been reported that officials in Westminster are considering learning from holiday activities and food programme that was piloted across 17 council areas over the summer, which would see children being given at least one free meal per day outside term time.

While this may not help this half-term, we hope this is a step towards a long-term solution that can finally put an end to holiday hunger.

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