At City Catering Southampton we believe that receiving great quality food, served with kindness and care, is a right and not a privilege. Everyone deserves the best possible nourishment. To honour that belief, we place a significant focus on making a tangible difference in people’s lives through local nutritional projects.

As a not-for-profit organisation, we ensure that our profits go towards issues that matter not just to us, but to those we work with too. As a charity, our Member schools are represented on our Board of Trustees and actively shape our initiatives. Together we all support the health, well-being and educational development of our community in Southampton. One matter that is of growing concern to our members, board and employees is Holiday Hunger.

A considerable portion of our work is to fuel young minds through our school meals, yet sadly, a growing national trend is the impact of schools holidays on pupils – particularly those in receipt of Free School Meals (FSM). Holiday hunger pushes many families into food poverty and insecurity. Although some children from families can access free school meals during term time, there is currently nothing available during holidays.

This challenge is being prioritised by the Department of Education and the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Hunger. A report from the APPG stated: “The increase in the number of families with children relying on food banks during school holidays, compared with other parts of the year, demonstrates that there are particular difficulties that arise at those times of the year which restrict families’ ability to afford food.”

It’s estimated that during the school holidays, the loss of Free School Meals equates to £30 per week for food, on top of potential additional childcare, fuel and activity costs. This impact is enormous for many families in Southampton; with our city sitting in the top 25% of pupils receiving Free School Meals across the country.

Holiday hunger is linked to negative effects on children’s mental, physical wellbeing and educational attainment. Food poverty all year round, and especially during the holidays, is proving an increased concern for teachers. A recent article in the TES stated that “School holidays can be the most difficult time for disadvantaged families who may struggle to feed children, who would otherwise receive free school meals during term time.”

As a provider of school meals in Southampton, it’s essential to work with the local community to help tackle this challenge.

Thankfully a wide range of organisations and charities across the country have started helping families with holiday hunger clubs supported by local volunteers. Holiday Hunger clubs invite families to come together, receive a meal, take part in fun activities and learn about nutrition and cooking.

The positive impact of these clubs is clear, with the APPG for Hunger reporting that children “eat more healthily, undertake more exercise, demonstrate better behaviour, and return to school in a much-improved condition than they would otherwise have done in the absence of those projects.”

Rachel Hall, our CEO, explains: “Our primary goal is to raise £500,000 in surplus to facilitate the growth of these services across Southampton. We are liaising with many support organisations to ensure that there is a partnership and joined up thinking; making sure that we are working with the communities that need it most.”

Last year we formed a Charitable Impact Committee that capitalises on the expertise and passion of a diverse group of local leaders. We are grateful for the support of one of our suppliers, Bidfood, who have recently joined the Committee, and are offering food supplies to support local projects.

The Committee is keen to build a network across the City (and further afield) such as housing provider, Radian who currently host the ‘Good Grub Club’ as well as regional LACA representatives, MPs, Councillors and other key influencers in the field of Food Poverty and Holiday Hunger.

One organisation that we have strong links with is Make Lunch, part of the Transforming Lives for Good organisation. We have been working with Make Lunch for the past year, and currently support their clubs at Valentine School, with Thornhill Primary School starting in February half term. By operating in our school kitchen, we can ensure that families get nutritious food, approved by the Government’s School Food Plan, freshly cooked, throughout the holidays.

We are looking forward to working with many different organisations and passionate people this year to ensure that our Charitable Impact is felt in Southampton. Supporting children to be well-fed in term time, and during the school holidays, is so incredibly important to us and sits right at the heart of who we are.