Food challenges for vulnerable families when school kitchens close for the summer

A blogpost by Dr Caroline Wolhuter, Head of Social Inclusion at Ashrammoseley, part of the Accord Group and Director of the Birmingham Food Council about the Holiday Kitchen.

From 21st July schools will be closed for summer holidays. While an idealised time for some, for many, including vulnerable low-income families, nursery and school holiday periods can be a time of stress, indebtedness and food poverty.

School holidays make up at least 13 weeks, or 25 percent, of the year and are a time when Free School Meals and related support is unavailable. During this time vulnerable and low income families are most at risk of food poverty with associated less varied dietary patterns; low fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and oily fish intake; and an over-abundance of “junk” food.

In addition to poor nutrition, social isolation and financial stress can undermine children’s school readiness, cognitive functioning and well-being beyond holiday periods.

Committed to addressing health and educational inequalities through a simple formula of Holiday learning, food and play for families who need it, Holiday Kitchen delivers quality assured, eight day, wellbeing programmes. Hosted in community settings and spread across 2-4 week holiday periods, Holiday Kitchen engages families in play-based learning that promotes good nutrition, physical activity, creativity, social skills, communal eating, and cost effective cooking skills. These activities are complemented by breakfasts and community lunches that meet the Children’s Food Trust guidelines.

holiday kitch mealtime

Family Eating at Holiday Kitchen

holiday kitchen potatoes

Field to Fork activity day at community gardens

Over the last two years Holiday Kitchen has co-delivered 5300 activity days with meals to 800 children and their parents through 19 community partners in the West Midlands. The positive social impact of this work has recently been recognised by a Housing Excellence Award 2015.

During 2014 Planning for Real – experts in community engagement – worked alongside partners from the Accord Group, Family Action and Birmingham City University to explore the social impact of the programme in relation to it’s core objectives of improved social inclusion, improved nutrition and wellbeing and reduced financial stress.

Birmingham City University conclusions of the initial evaluation indicate that Holiday Kitchen is a promisingly effective programme for meeting the needs of low-income children and families during holiday periods and, relationally, in addressing the Child Poverty agenda laid out in the 2010 Child Poverty Act. In particular the evaluation showed that Holiday Kitchen met the following short term aims for children :

  • Reduced opportunity gap
  • Increased physical activity
  • Improved opportunities for family bonding and learning outside the home
  • Improved nutrition

kebabs under construction naseby
Boys in East Birmingham Youth Programme preparing lunch.

Pioneered by the Accord Group, a social housing and care provider, Holiday Kitchen’s vision is for children to thrive throughout the year. Since last summer Holiday Kitchen has been developed in partnership with Family Action with the aim of encouraging the national extension of the programme to give more families the opportunity to benefit. With the support of funding from Children in Need and Public Health England, Holiday Kitchen will be delivering 30 programmes this summer across Birmingham, the West Midlands, Nottingham and Greater Manchester.

If you would like further information please contact:
Mark Gibbs, Holiday Kitchen Programme Co-ordinator
email: or telephone: 0787 0257817.

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