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Churches’ holiday clubs help relieve struggling families

19 August 2016

ST JOHN THE EVANGELIST, SOUTH BANK

Tuck in: lunchtime at St John’s, South Bank

Tuck in: lunchtime at St John’s, South Bank

THE parish of the Revd Dominic Black, the Vicar of Holy Trinity, North Ormesby, has the highest rate of child poverty in the country: 64 per cent. It is the second most deprived parish in the country. While the arrival of the summer holidays means freedom from the classroom, it also brings new pressures on tight budgets.

“What we have noticed, particularly in the last few years, is that more and more families are struggling in summer holidays,” Mr Black said at the start of the holiday. “Huge numbers of children rely on free school meals — but, of course, for six weeks, they aren’t [at school to get the meals].”

For a third consecutive year, churches and community groups in Middlesbrough are joining to tackle this problem. Hope4Summer, which provides fun activities through holiday clubs, is providing more than 5000 meals this summer. Co-ordinated by Together Middlesbrough & Cleveland, and supported by the Church Urban Fund, Public Health, and corporate sponsorship, it has also received a boost from the Bedfordshire-based charity His Church, which sent an articulated lorry loaded with breakfast cereal to Middlesbrough.

The holiday club at Holy Trinity, which has an Olympics theme this year, is attended by about 40 children, including some referred by social services, and looked-after children, who have the opportunity to take part in day trips besides indoor activities.

Latest figures suggest that 14.3 per cent of pupils — more than one million children — receive free school meals, the lowest level since 2001, although this rises to 32 per cent of primary school pupils in Middlesbrough: the highest in the country. It can be as high as 70 per cent in some parts of the county.

Fun Club, running at St John’s, South Bank, in Middlesbrough, is now in its third year, and has a circus theme. Ann Hornby, who is helping to run it, said this month that, by giving children both breakfast and lunch, they could relieve the burden on parents in an area with “a lot of unemployment”, while giving children who don’t go away on holiday an opportunity to have fun. Latest Government figures suggest that 35 per cent of children do not go away on holiday once a year because their parents cannot afford it.

The parish is the 17th most deprived in the country, and has the eighth highest rate of child poverty, at 56 per cent. The Fun Club, which hosts up to 25 children, includes sports, crafts, and a trip to an art gallery. It has secured funding from the deanery, and food from the Middlesbrough foodbank.

In Ely, the Revd Helene Tame, the Assistant Curate of St Mary’s, St Neote, a Fresh Expression on a new housing development, is running a holiday club under the banner “Make Lunch”: a network of churches working to fill the “holiday hunger-gap”. Since 2011, Make Lunch has provided more than 36,000 hot meals in 62 kitchens.

Working in partnership with the local primary school, which provided access to the school hall and a kitchen, the Ely club is attended by about 20 to 30 children, and half a dozen parents. One of its five underlying values is humility, Mrs Tame said. “We won’t make the assumption that, because someone has come to us, they don’t have something to bring.” Recently, they have decided to involve the children in making their own food.

The club was a response to a conversation that she had with a teacher at the school who was “concerned about what children would be eating or not eating over the holidays. . . She said ‘There are about 40 children that I worry about.’ And I was really shocked by that.”

Last year’s report from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hunger called for “immediate action . . . to abolish hunger amongst children during the school holidays”, and envisaged “holiday food and fun provision” across the country, backed by a £200-million fund financed by a levy on high-sugar drinks. The group heard that teachers reported that children returned to school “visibly thinner” after the school holidays.

“The level of need in communities like this is just enormous,” Mr Black said. “I think sometimes it is very difficult for people who don’t live in these communities to understand the levels of poverty in modern Britain. If you just lived a few miles away, you wouldn’t get it.”

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