Children in Plymouth tried out some sporting activities and tucked into free lunches as part of a pilot to open school kitchens during the summer holidays to help reduce the impact of Government cuts on hard-pressed families.
For three weeks of the summer holidays two sporting sessions and lunch sittings took place every day at Drake Primary School in Keyham from 10am until 12.30pm and again from 12.30 until 3pm for primary-aged children.
A maximum of 60 children have enjoyed free activities each day including martial arts, circus skills and basketball and have also received a hot, nutritious, freshly prepared meal either after or before their activity sessions.
Advice Plymouth have also been on hand to provide information to parents and carers about everything from benefits and Tax Credits, to consumer and employment rights, housing options and money and debt advice.
By the end of the pilot 900 free spaces on sporting and craft activities, plus lunches will have been offered to eight to 12 year olds in the city.
The summer sports and kitchen project, known as ‘School’s Out’, is part of a package of work aimed at lessening the impact of the Government’s welfare reform, which has resulted in a reduction to the income of many households, leaving families struggling. Grant funding of £405,000 has been earmarked for projects that aim to help tackle financial issues, fuel poverty and unemployment in the city.
The Fairness Commission’s report published in March 2014 highlighted the need to address the high cost of living, access to affordable healthy food and barriers to employment for under 25s.
Councillor Chris Penberthy, Cabinet Member for Co-operatives, Housing and Community Safety, said: “It’s been over 12 months since the Government made significant changes to the benefit system and our residents are paying the price. Referrals to the city’s food bank have increased by 50 per cent and almost 30 per cent of the Plymouth population is at least three months behind with their bills.
“We know many families, including a lot who are in work, are finding it hard to make ends meet and, entertaining children during the holidays can be extremely challenging. By providing free sporting sessions we are helping children to stay active, as well as providing a positive activity for families.
“Likewise we felt opening school kitchens in the holidays was a way of helping respond to the squeeze on budgets. Providing healthy, nutritious meals alongside activities during school holidays, when school kitchens haven’t traditionally been closed, can make a positive impact on children’s health and wellbeing.
“We assessed the impact of changes to the welfare system in 2013 and found there was significant need for support that was not being met. The government has cut funding for crisis responses and community care, and as a Council we decided to increase our investment in early intervention and prevention to try to help families avoid reaching crisis point.
“I made the decision in March to use this money to help address these areas through a package focusing on prevention and early intervention, to maximise support for vulnerable people in Plymouth. The summer sports and kitchen project is an excellent way to continue the term-time support schools offer to families during holiday periods. We’ll assess how successful the project has been and see what possibilities there are for adapting it or rolling it out in the future for more children and families.”
As well as the summer sports and kitchen project, the Council’s full package of support to help minimise the impact of the welfare reforms includes:
– Providing financial assistance for tenants renting who need to move to cheaper accommodation but cannot afford the removal costs.
– Contributions to the running costs of the Shekinah Mission day centre and their training programme.
– Work with credit unions to encourage school leavers to start saving and provide opportunities for credit union loans to help clear arrears that prevent young people move to more suitable housing.
– Work with schools to provide financial planning education.
– Employ apprentices to expand the work of the Plymouth Energy Community, which helps tackle fuel poverty in the city.
– Incentivise employers to recruit the unemployed through the Apprentice Training Agency and provide bus passes for young people not in education, employment or training (NEETS) to attend job interviews and to be able to travel to an apprenticeship.
– Provide computer based training to up-skill certain groups such as the over 50s and the unemployed over 25s.
For more information about the summer sports and kitchen project call the Sports Development Unit on 307008.