Councillors give backing to school holiday meals initiative

Plans to expand an Aberdeen City Council project to provide a further 10,000 free meals for children during school holidays have moved forward.

The Food and Fun initiative was trialled in three schools in Torry, Cummings Park and Woodside during last year’s summer holidays and was designed to reach families who were most in need by offering priority to those who were entitled to free school meals and those on the fringe of entitlement.

It focused on regeneration areas, offering packed lunches prepared by Council catering staff, as well as an activity programme to engage with young participants. Partners, such as the Aberdeen Football Club Community Trust, supported the provision of activities.

Members of the Finance, Policy and Resources committee have approved a proposed framework for the provision of 10,000 meals to school children over the summer, October and festive holidays in the 2018/19 school year.

Meals will be delivered alongside activity programmes, with an emphasis on supporting communities to deliver the programmes where possible through the introduction of a community funding scheme.

Areas with the highest concentrations of children registered for free school meals will be a priority – but access will not be restricted to children eligible for free school meals.

Cllr Douglas Lumsden, Aberdeen City Council Co-Leader and convener of the Finance, Policy and Resources committee, said: “The approach to the roll-out is very thorough and well thought through. We are pleased to be able to move forward with these plans and can see the benefits that providing food and activities during holiday periods can bring.

“The pilot was shown to support parents and children during what can be difficult holiday periods and there is now a framework in place for the next phase.

“It is vital that we give young people in Aberdeen the best opportunity to realise their potential and this is an example of a way in which the Council can play its part.

“As stressed when the committee considered the outcome of the pilot project, the Council does not act alone and again I would take the opportunity to highlight the role played by community partners and those responsible for existing programmes with shared aims. Our intention is not to replace these but to complement them and reach communities who will benefit from the Council’s support.”

A maximum of £35,000 will be required to fund the provision of meals, with a further £15,000 to support the delivery of activities as part of the programme. Funding will be subject to the 2018/19 budget setting process.

Feedback from the pilot project was overwhelmingly positive – with 98.4% of parents who responded to an evaluation survey saying their children had enjoyed the sessions and 40% reporting that their child’s behaviour at home had improved as a result of the Food and Fun sessions. More than 50% of parents said they find it harder to make ends meet during the school holidays, with 80% stating food bills increased during these periods. Almost a third said they sometimes find themselves without money to buy food.