Holiday hunger – the name given to the phenomenon when the absence of regular school meals for six weeks can put pressure on families’ budgets – is a problem across the country and also in Portsmouth.
The 2018 Schools Census showed there were 3,006 primary school children in Portsmouth – 18.2 per cent of the school population – eligible for free school meals compared to 13.7 per cent nationally. In secondary schools there were 17.8 per cent, 5.4 per cent greater than the national average.
Speaking previously on the issue, food bank manager for Portsmouth, Carly Butler, said: ‘The demand for food definitely increases during holidays. During last August, Southsea Food Bank were feeding 148 children compared to around 50 normally. School pastoral workers reported there was great concern amongst parents they simply weren’t going to be able to feed their children.’
To tackle the problem, the council-run Play Youth Community (PYC) adventure playgrounds are working with Fareshare Southern Central, Warburtons Worthing depot, and Portsmouth Foodbank, to provide healthy snacks and meals for local families. The programme also aims to educate children around nutrition and healthy eating before returning to school.
After visiting Somerstown Adventure Playground, cabinet member for education, Cllr Suzy Horton, said: ‘When I arrived there were children pitching in and getting excited about the different types of food that had just been delivered. It's a brilliant opportunity for them to get involved and come together to learn something new. Eating well, trying new things and learning about different types of food is so important.’
A key aspect of the scheme is to enable families and children to eat together as well as providing fun activities. Each site receives weekly fruit and vegetable boxes to provide healthy food alternatives. Recipe cards are included which children use to help cook and prepare the food.
Councillor Horton added: ‘To know children are receiving a free healthy meal, making friends, enjoying all the facilities and also gaining new skills at the same time is wonderful.’