Food and Fun: How one programme is making a difference to children in Wales
Food and Fun is an innovative programme to prevent children going hungry in the summer holidays and reduce the impacts of poverty and social deprivation. The school summer holidays are a crunch point for low-income families. Children who benefit from free school breakfasts and lunches often miss meals and go hungry once their school shuts for the holidays, while the lack of free play schemes and sports activities impacts most on disadvantaged children. Missing meals, a sedentary lifestyle and social isolation in the holidays reinforces existing health inequalities and undermines the success of free school breakfast and lunch policies.
The Food and Fun summer holiday enrichment programme was developed and piloted in Cardiff in 2015 and then introduced across more areas of Wales in 2016. It is the first UK example of a multi-agency project providing healthy meals, nutrition skills, sports and other physical activities in the school holidays. It aims to improve children’s health and promote learning through a programme of enrichment activities.
The Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) commissioned Y Lab, the Public Services Innovation Lab for Wales established by Cardiff University and Nesta, to evaluate the cost of Food and Fun, how many children and family members attended, and the impact on children and parents’ health and wellbeing.
Ten of the 19 Food and Fun clubs, spanning five local authorities in Wales, took part in the evaluation. A total of 323 children attended these ten Food and Fun clubs during the 2016 summer holiday, with 525 occurrences of a family member attending these clubs for lunch or other activities. No drop off was observed in children’s attendance rates over the summer. A total of 49 external organisations were involved in the delivery of sessions across the ten holiday clubs, delivering 217 sessions to children in total (ranging from nine to 59 sessions per club).
The research found positive impacts on children’s activity levels, diet, social isolation, and opportunities for learning and engagement with school. The findings showed that 98 per cent of children reported eating breakfast and all children ate lunch on club days. The majority reported consuming more fruit and vegetables (67 per cent), less sugary snacks (66 per cent) and less sugary/fizzy drinks (81 per cent) at the club than at home. Data collected via activity monitors showed children were significantly more likely to achieve the daily recommendation of 60 minutes moderate to vigorous physical activity when attending the club (71 per cent) compared to other non-club weekdays (48 per cent). Potential social and educational benefits were also found, with 75 per cent of children reporting making new friends at holiday club, and parents and staff observing more positive attitudes to school among children attending.
Children were more likley to achieve the daily recommendation of 60 minutes of physical activity when attending the club
The research team identified three key ingredients to the programme’s success - using existing school facilities and staff, the flexible, multi-agency partnership model, and involving the whole family.
The Food and Fun club model was shown to be an innovative and cost-efficient multi-agency model that can be implemented across a range of school sites and local authorities in Wales to reduce the impact of poverty and social deprivation during the school holidays. Targeting families on a geographical basis also provided an effective means of reaching and engaging deprived families while avoiding the labelling, stigma and unintended consequences associated with selecting individual families.
Welsh Government has now made a commitment to support the roll out of the Food and Fun model in the most deprived parts of Wales. Funding of £500,000 per year will go to summer holiday school Food and Fun clubs with endorsement from the Welsh education secretary. The money will be offered to councils to help provide the activities and meals over the long break.
WLGA is hosting the inaugural School Holiday Enrichment Programme Wales Event on 8 February 2017 to share the outcomes of the 2016 pilot and bring together stakeholders from across Wales to discuss the initial roll-out in 2017.