August means one thing to most children and parents across the UK: school holidays! Conjuring up blissful memories of long days playing in the sun (or rain!) with friends, picnics, days out and trips to the seaside. For many families in the UK, however, school holidays mean something quite different.
Around three million children are at risk of going hungry in the holidays. For those families with children receiving free school meals throughout the year, the holiday period can be a time of huge financial strain. With little money for food, childcare or social activities like trips out to the cinema or holidays, lots of children are left hungry, isolated and bored.
Many of the Joint Ventures in CUF’s Together Network are at the heart of a grassroots response to Holiday Hunger led by charities, community and faith groups. These initiatives have been recognised in the 2017 ‘Hungry Holidays’ report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hunger.
Filling the Gap, in Chester, is one such example. It has been running for about three years and last year saw 11 churches providing around 2,500 meals and activities for over 400 children and their families across the summer. The impact of the programme has gone beyond food. One of the activities on offer is 'family film and nibbles' at lunchtime, with the option for families to bring their own picnic. One family, caught in a zero hours contract trap, said to a volunteer 'This is a lifesaver to be able to bring our children somewhere to have fun and time out together'.
Lunchbox Library, a scheme delivered by Transforming Southwark in partnership with local churches and community groups, offer a combination of a hot lunch, activities and reading for fun with children. A total of 2,112 meals were offered in 2018. Research has shown that that for children in poorer areas around the UK, spelling skills often decline or stagnate over the summer holidays, taking weeks to make up the learning loss. Holiday activity schemes like Lunchbox Library can really help reverse this trend.
In spite of brilliant initiatives like this however, the need significantly outstrips the current level of provision, and many holiday clubs are operating on a ‘hand to mouth basis’, with precarious and minimal funding. Wendy, the Community Builder at Transforming Lives Together, Chester, said the one thing she’d like to ask government for is providing resources to existing providers like churches putting on ‘Filling the Gap’, to enable them to continue.
In 2018, the Department for Education in England committed £2 million to fund a series of pilot projects through its holiday and food programme, which they did in partnership with organisations already running holiday provision in deprived areas. Following the success of this, the Government announced in May 2019 that around 50,000 disadvantaged children will be offered free meals and activities over this year’s summer holidays, funded by £9.1 million from the Department for Education.
Despite this creditable investment by the Department for Education, unmet need in some of the most deprived local authorities remains high. According to data recently obtained by the Guardian Newspaper and Channel 4 News, the majority of funding bids from the most deprived areas in England were rejected, showing that 88% of bids – 81 projects in 64 English local authority areas - were unsuccessful, although the reasons behind this are unclear.
Many of CUF’s Joint Ventures are successfully working in collaboration with local authorities to increase provision. Together Southwark has enabled five partner community organisations to access funding from the Mayor’s Fund for London through the work of the Lambeth Holiday Hunger Steering Group which the JV co-created. By bringing community stakeholders together through the Steering Group, Together Southwark helped bridge an existing gap between the need and the team of the Mayor’s Fund for London which wanted to know areas where the fund was needed. Nelly Misenga, the Development worker from Transforming Southwark said that as well as increased funding, she’d like to see the Government work on a multi-sectoral approach involving all community stakeholders at every stage in order to address the root causes of food insecurity on a longer term.
The Joint Ventures in CUF’s Together Network are having a significant impact on the issue of Holiday Hunger, in terms of both the grassroots provision of clubs like Lunchbox Library, Filling the Gap, and a whole host of others across England, but also the extent to which they are ambitiously and collaboratively working with local authorities to strategically tackle the gaps in provision.
 Click on the links to find out more about Together Southwark and the Lunchbox Library project, or Transforming Lives Together and the Filling the Gap project. For information about other holiday hunger projects across the Together Network, click here.