£626,500 to fund free school meals and children's activities in Hartlepool over Easter, Summer and Christmas holidays
Children are set to benefit from free meals and healthy activities over the school holidays thanks to a six-figure grant.
Hartlepool Borough Council is to receive £626,500 of grant funding from the Department for Education to provide a holiday activities and food programme in 2021.
This will include providing healthy food and enriching activities during the Easter, Summer and Christmas holidays, and it will be aimed at children who receive benefits-related free school meals.
Sally Robinson, council director of children’s and joint commissioning services, said it will build on schemes provided previously by the local authority, such as the ‘Filling the Holiday Gap’ and free swim schemes.
She said: “We know that for some children school holidays can lead to an experience gap, with children from disadvantaged families being less likely to access organised out of school activities.
“They are more likely to experience unhealthy holidays in terms of nutrition and physical health and are more likely to experience social isolation.
“We’ve looked at how we can deliver a programme at the forthcoming Easter holiday as a priority because we have limited amounts of time.”
She added a lot of the offer at Easter will be virtual due to Covid-19, and they are exploring how they can use the internet to carry out self-guided families activities such as nature trails.
A steering group has been set up with representatives from across the town to plan the offer for Easter, while young people will be consulted following that over what they want to see in future offers.
A report to the children’s services committee noted there were approximately 5,091 children eligible for free school meals as at the October 2020 census, giving an indication of the scale of the programme.
The local authority will make the offer available to all of these children, but officers noted not all will want to participate.
Councillors on the committee praised the scheme, especially the importance of ensuring families can eat healthily and prepare a health home cooked meal.
Cllr Jim Lindridge said: “It’s great to see that we’ve got this extra funding.
“There are a lot of skills that the parents haven’t got, some of them unfortunately don’t know how to cook, or some of them might not even have pots and pans to cook with, so it really is important.”
He also noted the contribution of Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford in putting pressure on the Government over the issue.
Ms Robinson noted the campaigning of the England international has brought further focus on the issue of ensuring children eat proper meals during the school holidays, which is a big part of the latest scheme.
She said: “I think certainly the campaigning that Marcus Rashford has done, supported by many other voices as well, has had an impact and a recognition, it really has brought into sharp relief the impact of children not being in schools and having hot meals.
“The requirements of this program is an expectation that children will have a hot meal that meets the school food standards, so it’s extremely close to talking about school meals and a desire to move away from vouchers where possible.
“Elements of this programme are around nutritional education, enriching activities and supporting learning, rather than simply giving out food.
“What we’re trying to achieve is assist people to be able to cook on a budget and have stored cupboard items and access to information where people can create meals from limited supplies.”
Cllr Leisa Smith, chair of the committee, said it is important young people have a healthy hot meal, and it can have many benefits to the whole family.
She said: “I’m all for educating people to be able to open a cupboard and throw a meal together on as little as you possibly can to be able to have a hot, nutritious meal.
“I think food is a fantastic way to be able to keep families together and be able to learn, it’s a great learning environment.”