My name is Heather Black; I work as one of the Development Officers with Together Middlesbrough & Cleveland.  I’ve been involved in co-ordinating Hope4Summer, and this week I’ve been out and about visiting churches and community centres to see all the great activities that are going on.

What is Hope4Summer?

Hope4Summer, now in its third year, brings together churches and community groups in different locations across Middlesbrough and Redcar & Cleveland offering fun activities and healthy food for children during the summer holidays.   We know that for many local families the summer holidays are a struggle with the children at home 24/7 and no free school meals.  The weekly budget has to stretch further for food and there is little left for activities and treats.

It’s now the second week of the school holidays and all the clubs are busy with children enjoying lots of fun activities and healthy food. Key to the success of Hope4Summer are the amazing teams of staff and volunteers at each of the venues who work tirelessly to create a wonderful experience for the children to enjoy.  Each club follows a theme; the staff & volunteers dress up & also turn the church halls & community centres into an imaginary world.

It’s an Olympic year so many of the clubs are following an Olympic theme. There have been lots of sports activities, learning about different countries of the world and enjoying cooking from around the world.  At the Trinity Centre in North Ormesby Children re-enacted the opening ceremony of the Olympic games. Working in national teams, they designed their own T shirts, wrote a national anthem for their team, and then paraded around the Market Square with torches & flags “Let the Games Begin” day was a fantastic start to their two weeks of Olympic fun!

Feeding the 5,000!

Every holiday club provides a healthy meal for the children who attend, and in some places parents & younger siblings are invited to eat together to make it a family affair.  The key is to provide a healthy lunchtime meal to replace the free schools meals that so many families rely on.  Free school meal provision is highest in the North East of England and in some parts of Middlesbrough can be as high as 70%.

Travelling around the clubs I’ve been invited to join in lots of the shared meals. On the Thorntree Estate a family lunch club is running in the local primary school, all the children receive a free plastic lunch box & drink bottle, which they decorated on the first day of the club, and bring back each day. They were all so bright & colourful, and all the children were proud to own their own lunch box, which they had made, one litte boy was very pleased that he had chosen all the right letters to stick on to make his name!  Chatting to parents & grandparents it was obvious how much they valued the lunch club, the combination of “fun activities to stop them getting bored at home and food is perfect” said one mum.

During the six weeks of the summer holidays Hope4Summer will be providing over 5,000 meals, which has been made possible by the sponsorhsip we have received from the Brakes UK Meals & More programme. Ken McMeikan, CEO of Brakes Group, said: “Brakes is passionate about helping alleviate child poverty by providing tasty, nutritious food, motivating activities and a supportive environment to boost health, attitude and life aspirations for children of all ages from challenging backgrounds.”

Pem Hulusi, Programme Manager, Brakes UK, added: As part of our ground breaking UK Meals & More programme, we are delighted to support Together Middlesbrough & Cleveland. This is the first year we have partnered together to focus on child poverty within the area and we will ensure good quality meals are available in these communities, hoping that our practical input helps address inequalities and child poverty and support to families"

All the food was delivered to Middlesbrough Foodbank, where the staff & volunteers have done a fantastic job of sorting and delivering to all the holiday clubs.  We’re also grateful to HIS Church who donated supplies of free breakfast cereals to give out to local families.

Chatting to one mum in North Ormesby, she was so impressed:

“We enjoyed potatoes from the church community garden for tea last night, rice crispies for breakfast this morning and the kids get lunch at the club, it’s such a big help.”

A grass roots response, making a real difference

Hope4Summer is all about local people making a difference in their own communities.  Churches have been opening their doors for the past three years to give hope for families at a difficult time, and this year we are delighted to be working with community centres and schools where there is no suitable church building.  It has been fantastic to see the project grow so much this year. Support from Public Health, recognising the need for healthy nutrition in the school holidays, and corporate sponsorship to provide the food and resources to help make Hope4Summer possible has been invaluable. However the Hope4Summer story begins and ends with the people at the heart of it all, we want to celebrate the fantastic staff and volunteers who make Hope4Summer happen!