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Tower Hamlets' Holiday Clubs

Date Posted: 16 October 2018

In Tower Hamlets, as in the rest of the UK, usage of local food banks has skyrocketed in recent years. Accordingly, the Borough is evermore concerned by the rising rates of food poverty, driven primarily by austerity – specifically – benefit reform.

As a result, this summer, after an extensive community consultation on food poverty, our Council made an investment in holiday clubs. The decision to fund these clubs wasn’t hard. After all, during term-time, schools provide Tower Hamlets’ children edifying, structured, safe childcare and a free, healthy, hot meal. The holidays therefore can present an extra struggle for the many of the children and families in Tower Hamlets who experience food poverty. Regrettably, in our Borough, that’s a lot of struggling people: we suspect that 52% Borough’s children have diets that are compromised by lack of money (GLA, 2013); and harrowingly, it’s likely that one-in-ten of our children live in families that regularly skip meals and face hunger (UNICEF, 2017).

We provided modest funds to five holiday breakfast clubs, taking the overall-number of such clubs in Tower Hamlets to eleven. These clubs, usually situated in primary schools, are staffed for at least three hours between, usually between 9-noon. Combined, the eleven clubs ensure capacity for 440 children every day to receive: a free breakfast, an hour of structure play, and an opportunity to cook their own take-away lunch.

On the whole, the community are very pleased with the approach. The University of Westminster are preparing to return the scheme’s novel evaluation this November, with which we hope to secure a sustainable source of funding for future years. Until the evaluation is back, what better way to describe the value of these clubs than with a case-study, written by one of the club’s volunteers:

 

#“What Country language Do You Speak?”

The big brown eyes of a confident little girl looked up at me waiting for a response.  I blinked for a moment and she offered “We speak Moroccan!”  Her bigger sister rolled her eyes and said “We’re from Morocco but we speak Arabic!”. “Ah!” I said “My country language is Spanish!” -   Relieved and quite proud that I might possibly be as interesting as they were. I’m half Scots, half Spanish, born and bred in England and, like many in the UK today, am part of a wonderful mosaic of languages and cultures that make our country the wonderful place that it is.

I had just finished my A Levels and was waiting to go to university and had volunteered at Sister Christine’s, Neighbours in Poplar summer camp for children, based in St. Mathias Centre in the deanery of Tower Hamlets.

It was to prove one of the most joyous – and hard and exhausting!! – experiences I had had to date – 5 days a week for 4 weeks, supporting Sr. Christine and her lead volunteer, Amrana, provide fun, games, creative activities and healthy food daily for about 12 – 19 local children from the diverse and often disadvantaged local community.

As soon as I stepped in, I was handed a £10 note from Sister Christine and sent off with one of the local working mums to Chrisp Street market, a fabulous – and cheap! – local market brimming with a huge variety of fruit and veg from all over the world.

Left then to my own devices, I gathered the best and cheapest I could from the fantastic produce and headed back to my next task – helping the children understand healthy food and making fresh fruit kebabs – happy chaos!

Sister Christine had organised a wonderful and varied programme for the children; a local reception teacher did arts and crafts daily; another teacher came in to do food tech; outings to the cinema and the beach.

I fitted in where I could but seemed to be most popular for the hide and seek/run around games – early nights were the order of the day! – but my secret and long-forgotten joy, was “cut and stick” – oh, the fond childhood memories of glue, feathers and egg boxes! – I took it seriously J!

Many of the parents with older children stayed and helped – so too, did an initially reticent group of 14/15 year old “volunteers” under the watchful eye of Amrana – they were really wonderful with the younger children!

I suppose my most fondest memory apart from the lovely children was when, towards the end, the mothers brought in their own country food for us all to share – it was delicious!! However, such generosity has its consequences… back to the gym for me, I think!

I was sad to leave them all at the end of the project but really hope to be asked again next year!

 

 

 

References:

 Pereira, A.L., Handa, S. and Holmqvist, G. Prevalence and Correlates of Food Insecurity Among Children Across the Globe, Innocenti Working Paper 2017-09, UNICEF Office of Research, Florence

  • IPSOS MORI (2013) Child Hunger in London: Understanding food poverty in London. Available online [https://ems.ipsos-mori.com/researchpublications/publications/1585/Child-Hunger-in-London.aspx]
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