Healthy holiday projects to help Leeds' disadvantaged children

An innovative project aimed at challenging children in the school holidays is having a major impact on their ability to learn, charities say, after grant funding was secured to extend support for the region’s most disadvantaged.

By Ruby Kitchen
Monday, 3rd June 2019, 7:00 am
School holidays can be among the most stressful time for families, charities say
School holidays can be among the most stressful time for families, charities say

An estimated 33,000 children live in poverty in Leeds, with 20,000 eligible for free school meals. Under a trial scheme launched in the city last year, community groups set up projects to provide activities and healthy meals through the summer holidays.

This not only kept them occupied and engaged, the Leeds Community Foundation found, but meant they returned to school more ready to learn. Now, having secured backing from the Department for Education with a grant of £400,000, the charity will be able to expand its reach.

“The funding is incredibly welcome,” said Francesca Wood, healthy holidays coordinator for LCF. “It will enable local leaders to put on free activities and free meals for the kids that most need it. The biggest message we got from last year was how welcome this was - it made a huge difference.

“A lot of community leaders had felt they wanted to do something, but they didn’t know how with the resources they had. They had leapt at the chance.

“It was meeting a need they knew was there, but at a level they were surprised to see.”

'Third of parents skipping meals'

A third of parents may be skipping a meal so their children can eat in the school holidays, the foundation estimates, warning this time can be one of incredible stress for families.

The project was launched to support those struggling in the holidays when there are no free school meals. This was aimed around holiday activities, with local groups leading on projects and taking thousands of youngsters on trips to the seaside, blackberry picking or for picnics, or days out gorge walking, litter picking, and on expeditions.

There was a focus on providing food, with local community groups and hubs providing a regular, healthy meal. While this started as lunch, organisers said, it was soon extended as children came in hungry, with some groups starting breakfast and even sending home dinner boxes for families as well.

“A lot of projects noticed that, when they opened at 11am, the children were turning up early. They started giving breakfasts, and then sending food home for families,” said Mrs Wood.

“For some of them, they weren’t having a meal at all. For others, it would be bread and jam, or a cheap takeaway.”

Impact on education

And while the project was aimed at supporting children in the holidays, the feedback from schools was that when the new term came, children who had taken part were more engaged.

“Part of this was about giving these kids the opportunity to do something fun and engaging, but also to make sure they were going to school ready to learn.”

The DfE has awarded 11 projects across the country a share of £9.1m, including two in Yorkshire, Bradford’s Transforming Lives for Good and the Leeds Community Foundation.

Nadhim Zahawi, Minister for Children and Families, said the aim was reach 50,000 of the most disadvantaged children across the country.

“School holidays should be a chance for children to have fun experiences and make lasting memories – and no child should miss out on that,” he said.