Holiday hunger: How Yorkshire initiatives are helping children and families with meals as cost of living crisis hits this summer

With schools out for the summer and escalating living costs putting a strain on households, Sally Clifford looks at a number of initiatives that are supporting children and families.

The long summer holidays bring great expectations. Unsurprisingly, with the limitations on our lives due to Covid restrictions over the past few years, families are clamouring for a welcome break from the humdrum of the daily routine – but at what cost?

Over the past few months the cost of living has soared; price hikes in energy and fuel are forcing many families to tighten their purse strings at a time when they are seeking some enjoyment. And, now that schools are out, feeding the family through the summer holidays is contributing to the financial burden many are already facing.

In a number of Yorkshire communities, initiatives have been put in place to help. In Helmsley, for example, Martin Davies and his wife Tracey, who run Barkers Café Bar, are delivering lunches to those who would receive free school meals during term time.

Children prepare salad as part of a Healthy Holidays Leeds activity. Photo: Hyde Park Source.

It builds on their work last year, supporting England footballer Marcus Rashford’s work around ending child food poverty. Marcus has helped to raise the profile of charity Fareshare, which re-distributes surplus food to charities ensuring it doesn’t go to waste, and inspired people to support schemes to tackle child hunger in their own communities.

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The couple were prompted to take action this year after Tracey saw a television interview in which a parent raised concern as to how she was going to cope throughout the summer holidays working full-time and funding childcare and food while the schools were closed and her children wouldn’t be accessing breakfast and after school clubs and free school meals.

Martin and Tracey contacted their suppliers for support and also asked customers to contribute and pay for a lunch for the children involved.

Children take part in the Healthy Holidays Leeds programme. Photo: Hyde Park Source.

“The reason why we are delivering is if you can’t afford to pay for lunches, you can’t afford to pay for petrol or the bus fare to come into us – so we will deliver free of charge,” explains Martin.

He says the scheme covers their immediate area around Helmsley, including Kirkbymoorside and Ampleforth. Claire Lamb, executive headteacher at Helmsley Primary, one of the schools involved, says she has recently seen an increase in the free school meal uptake. She believes it is due to families struggling with escalating living costs.

After hearing the details of Barkers’ scheme from Martin, she was keen to support it. “Families who are in receipt of free school meals will be able to access free lunches for their children during the school holidays. Some families rely on these free school meals during term time, and it is great that in the summer break they will be able to receive a meal each day,” she says.

Each child receives a lunch pack containing a drink, sandwich, fruit, crisps, yoghurt and a sweet treat. This summer, 168 pupils have been offered the lunch pack every day, seven days a week for six weeks. “There is a cost of living crisis affecting this country at present and especially for the less well off, so if we and our team can at least alleviate one of their worries that can only be a good thing,” says Martin.

“We are a small café, and some of my suppliers are large and some are small, but we are all doing our bit. My wife is very fond of the old proverb ‘It takes a community to raise a child.’”

Michelin-starred chef, Andrew Pern, from The Star Inn at Harome, is also supporting the scheme. “It’s great to be involved and help out during the school holidays and to work together as a team with Martin and one of our great suppliers L’éclair Patisserie,” explains Andrew. “Hopefully this will keep the children going over the summer to substitute their school lunch. There will be a healthy, tasty pack out provided each day and we all hope it will ‘fill the gap’ and help towards them all having a great summer.”

Stephen Thompson from L’Eclair Patisserie in Pudsey, adds: “This could be the hardest summer ever, certainly in our generation so we said we could do it and we have been supported by our suppliers.”

Elsewhere, Healthy Holidays Leeds is once again offering a programme of activities to support children and families through the summer holidays, as it has since launching in 2018.

Kate Hainsworth, CEO of Leeds Community Foundation, one of the main partners in the initiative, says: “Schoolchildren and their families are invited to join creative, sport and social activities during the holidays where they can also access nutritious meals. With the cost of living crisis, as well as the increase in those accessing free school meals in Leeds, the programme continues to provide a lifeline for those children and families that need the most help in these challenging times.”

Kelly Ramsden, outdoor educational coordinator for Hyde Park Source, an organisation funded by Leeds Community Foundation to deliver Healthy Holidays schemes with Rosebank Millennium Garden, and Cross Green Growing Together in Leeds, explains they support 80 children for 16 days as part of their summer holiday provision. Activities, focused around cooking, healthy living and wellbeing, run between 10am and 2pm and breakfast, lunch and food parcels are provided.

Kelly explains the sessions are aimed at children aged between 5 and 11 whose families are eligible for benefits and free school meals. Cross Green, with its purpose-built community garden and kitchen, gives the children the opportunity to learn how to cook and take the fruits of their efforts home, along with recipe cards for their families to replicate healthy meals.

“Everything is just so expensive,” says Kelly, who sees first-hand the impact the increasing cost of living is having on families. “When they come to us we are promoting healthy eating and they learn about fruit, vegetables and herbs and how to make simple meals. We provide food parcels and also give them recipe cards to follow. We find if the children are getting involved with the preparation of lunch they are very keen to try the food.”

With many families feeling the financial pinch, projects such as the Healthy Holidays programme are supporting parents at a time when they probably need it the most. “The food shopping has gone up so much, but even getting to and from or a day out costs so much as well,” says Kerry. “It’s really good to know they can go there and they are enjoying it.”

For more information, visit www.leeds.gov.uk/children-and-families/healthy-holidays