Holiday Hunger Schemes

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:15 pm on 6th November 2018.

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Photo of Ruth Smeeth Ruth Smeeth Labour, Stoke-on-Trent North 3:15 pm, 6th November 2018

I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. We are, at the moment, in the hands of those people who volunteer their time, and who give children access to their buildings and schools. If they did not volunteer those facilities, school provision could cost families up to £15 or £20 a day. My constituents cannot afford that, and I am sure that my hon. Friend’s cannot either.

Against the backdrop that I have described, in the summer of 2017, my local heroines, and the odd hero, set out to pull together people and organisations from across Stoke-on-Trent North and Kidsgrove to launch the first comprehensive pilot programme to tackle holiday hunger and deal with school holiday provision in north Staffordshire. At this point, I should make it clear that we all hate the phrase “holiday hunger”. It is misery-inducing and heartbreaking, but it can also be counterproductive, as no parents want to admit, or even accept, that they are struggling to feed their children, so they opt out of programmes. In 2017, therefore, we launched Fit and Fed, our pilot for the extended summer break of 2017, to help to reach low-income families and their children, and provide safe activities, as well as a proper meal, Monday to Friday, for six weeks.

The initiative was driven by the brilliant and formidable Carol Shanahan, whom the Minister has had the pleasure of meeting. My heroine, the managing director of Synectic Solutions, has ensured that we bring together as many people as possible, and she has enlisted the support of charities, volunteers and organisations across my constituency, to turn the pilot into a real project. I am indebted to each and every one of them: Synectic Solutions, the Port Vale Foundation Trust, StreetGames, Swan Bank church, North Staffordshire Allotment Network, Root’n’Fruit, the Salvation Army, City catering public health, Stoke-on-Trent City Council, YMCA North Staffordshire, Engage Communities, the Stoke City Community Trust, Netbiz, Purple Cow—interesting name—and Stoke-on-Trent Foodbank, which all supported the project. If anything shows the importance of all the voluntary groups coming together, it is the list I just read.

I am also thankful for the financial support of the Greggs Foundation, which donated £5,000, and I am grateful to Warburton, Makro, Freshview Foods, JB Oatcakes and High Lane Oatcakes—I am talking about Stoke-on-Trent, after all—all of which supplied food, as well as, of course, to FareShare. As I said, Tesco has been extraordinary. Special thanks must go to it and its team, led locally by the inspirational Rich Evans. They volunteered their time as well as huge quantities of food at very short notice, to ensure that people were well fed. Most of all, I am grateful to the dozens of volunteers who contributed more than 600 hours of their time so that within the pilot, 4,323 meals were dished up to local children and their families. That was in addition to the thousands of meals provided by other amazing voluntary groups, including the Chell Heath mums and the Big Local. The goal of the pilots was not just to make holiday provision for those that really needed it. It was to pull together hard data to work out what delivery systems are most effective, and to begin to develop best practice that can guide similar projects nationwide.