On April 25th I had the privilege of attending the House of Commons. It was the day the APPG (All Party Parliamentary Group) report on hunger amongst children during the school holidays was released. Together Middlesbrough & Cleveland had contributed to the report, along with submissions from Communities Together Durham and Together Lancashire, so the voice of the CUF Together Network in parliament was well represented. The full report can be read here Hungry Holidays.
The local response
Together Middlesbrough & Cleveland (TMC) has been working with local churches and communities, supporting them to develop holiday activities with healthy food since 2014. For many families, the summer holidays are a struggle with the children at home 24/7 and no free school meals, so the weekly budget has to stretch further for food and there is little left for activities and treats.
Providing a safe space where children can have fun together, enjoy activities that they couldn’t otherwise afford, and share a healthy meal makes a real difference to these families.
“You don’t know how much this means to me that over the past 5 weeks I knew that Maisey was having a great time and was in a safe place being cared for.”
“I borrow money to get through the summer, if they weren’t here they would just spend most of the day indoors.”
“This is the only time they get to see other kids in the holidays.”
Beginning as ‘Hope4Summer’ in 2014, this grass-roots response has developed into an all year-round programme with churches and community groups offering activities and food in school holidays beyond the summer. It has also grown in reach with more communities involved each year. We expect to be working in 15-20 communities across Middlesbrough and Redcar & Cleveland during the summer of 2017. To reflect this growth the project has been renamed as ‘Feast of Fun.’
The national response
The Hungry Holidays report gathers the expertise of people involved in local programmes like this across the country. It gives voice to the challenges families face, and to the experience of the army of dedicated people who are working in local communities to support vulnerable families.
‘Traditionally holidays are a time when children should be having fun and taking part in activities with their families and friends. It’s a worrying fact that many families in the [United Kingdom] on low household incomes are being left to struggle in the school holidays’.
Rt. Hon. Frank Field MP spoke about the evil of children going hungry during the school holidays in this country and has pledged to work through the Feeding Britain charity to bring a Free School Meals (Provision in School Holidays) Bill which will be introduced to Parliament following the election, by a cross party group of MPs. The bill will include a statutory requirement for local authorities to facilitate and co-ordinate the delivery of free meals and fun for children during school holidays, with the voluntary sector in the driving seat wherever possible. There will be a recommendation to allocate £41.5 million funded by revenues from the sugary drinks levy. This will provide local authorities with a budget to counter holiday hunger to be used in partnership with local churches, schools, community groups and businesses.
So, maybe we can look forward to the day when we won't be looking for grant funding year on year but a ring-fenced budget is guaranteed for this important work? I’m sure whatever the future holds, that whilst there are families struggling in our communities, people will continue to work together to provide food and fun, committed to helping local children and families enjoying ‘life in all its fullness.’
 *We were invited by Brakes Meals and More programme, that provides sponsorship for Feast of Fun.