School Food Matters was founded in 2007 by parent Stephanie Slater, inspired by environmentalist Zac Goldsmith, then the parliamentary candidate for Richmond Park.
At the time, School Food Matters was a campaign looking specifically at the school meal service for primary schools in the London Borough of Richmond and subsequently the neighbouring borough of Kingston, who were experiencing similar challenges. Our quest was to actively engage parents and head teachers about the quality and delivery of school meals and to help provide a better model to the Local Authority. 65% of Richmond schools and 55% of Kingston schools responded in support of our goals.
The official launch of the campaign took place in Richmond Theatre in May 2008 and included a list of high profile speakers. Chaired by Jonathan Dimbleby, the panel included Jeanette Orrey (the “dinner lady” who started the school meal revolution in Nottinghamshire), Prue Leith (Chair of the School Food Trust), Chris Collins (Blue Peter Gardener) and Jackie Schneider (Merton Parents for Better Food in Schools).
With over 200 people attending the launch and over 500 signatures on our online petition, SFM had a body of support to catch the attention of the local authorities. School Food Working Parties were subsequently established at both councils with representations from schools, parents, national campaign groups and School Food Matters. Our key role was “bringing the voice of parents to the table” at the Working Parties, and successfully lobbying local councillors around our campaign goals.
In May 2011 the new contracts for Richmond and Kingston were awarded. Meals in Richmond are now being cooked fresh on site and schools in Kingston without kitchens are receiving meals produced to the same food standards, cooked within the borough. Both boroughs now follow Food for Life Catering Mark standards.
Within the first half term of the new service (September 2011), Richmond schools saw an average increase in school meal uptake of 22%. By December numbers had risen by 39%. In some schools the number of children taking a school meal has doubled. Across the borough the average number of school meals enjoyed each day is now 3,535 (compared with just 2,008 in 2010).
Kingston meals have remained at £2.00 and in Richmond the meal price has dropped by up to 38p, despite a substantial increase in the quality of the meal on offer.
In just four short years, School Food Matters earned a reputation for being a highly effective voice in school food advocacy. Since then, we have developed a membership for schools programme to deliver meaningful food education programmes for school children with our project partners and continue to participate in several high-level policy steering groups, including the Expert Panel for the School Food Plan. We feel honoured to have brought about genuine change in two London boroughs and this has made us confident that our campaign approach works, is both necessary and influential and that we can offer a valuable service to parents, schools, food organisations and Local Authorities who are seeking change.