Sale West Big Local (‘Our Sale West’) have discovered that food is their best weapon for supporting families during holidays, combating isolation and reaching out to vulnerable older residents.
One of the big issues identified by Our Sale West, when they consulted with the 3,800 people on their estate, was how families could ensure children get a nutritious meal during school holidays. For low-income families who usually rely on free school meals, or where one or both parents are out at work, the long summer break is a big challenge.
The Munch Club began in the 2015 school summer holiday as a way to provide children with a meal, and keep them entertained and safe for a few hours each day. From 16 children at the start, the club quickly grew to 35 children, and is likely to reach 100 young residents when it runs again this coming summer.
Lynne Stewart, deputy chair of the partnership, said: “Mums love it. Kids love it. Low income families need somewhere to send their kids where they can have a meal. We ran it for four weeks and targeted 5-11 year olds, dishing up 400 meals in total.
“It’s easy to set up. You just need somewhere with a kitchen attached, and the volunteers to come in.”
“We found school staff wanted to volunteer, and we also drew volunteers in from the local church congregation, college kids and from the local Co-op and Halifax, who bank staff volunteering hours.”
By running the club in partnership with the local church, and relying on volunteers, Our Sale West was able to keep costs low, contributing £800 and accessing matched funding. As well as a meal, the Munch Club also offered children games and table activities. It was open three days a week, over three weeks last August. The club was also open for three days at Easter.
Some of the lessons learned during the first year:
Though Our Sale West targeted younger children (aged 5 to 11), older children were also drawn to the club, so this summer the Munch Club will offer more for this age group too.
The organisers found they were right not to advertise the club as being for ‘low income families’, as families may have stayed away because they didn’t want to be stigmatised.
The club began with a menu from which young diners could choose, but ditched this after the first week as it was difficult to meet children’s often changeable appetites.
This summer will see Munch Club making an even greater impact: opening for longer hours and increasing to four days a week. As well as a meal for every child, there will be more activities, including football skills. They’ll also be offering cookery lessons and recipe ideas for parents and carers. Lynne said: “We want to send them home with ingredients and recipes to make an evening meal too.”
Our Sale West have built on the success of the Munch Club by running food-related events that reach out to and support other sections of the community.
At Christmas, they offered a Christmas lunch isolated and vulnerable estate residents, attracting 100 people. As well as combating loneliness, it was also an opportunity to consult this hard-to-reach group of residents about what they would like to see change for the better in their community.
Following on, there was an afternoon tea in February and a trip to Bury Market, both aimed at older residents who don’t have many opportunities to get out and meet others.
Now the partnership is exploring ways to reach out to young people, those who are socially isolated, and those who don’t speak English. It’s also been approached by a local college to support a cookery course for people with diabetes.
As Ralph Rudden, partnership chair, said: “Food is always a great way of getting people to the table.”