Blog: A Pandemic Pivot

5 May 2021
In March 2020, we were about to kick off a major new five-year programme in 80 schools – Healthy Zones

This innovative new programme aims to create sustained changes to school food environments in Lambeth and Southwark, so that children’s health is prioritised throughout the school day and rates of obesity are reduced.  

We tentatively started contacting schools, but with the Coronavirus pandemic looming, schools were unsurprisingly reluctant to engage. It wasn’t long until schools across the country were forced to close, putting the Healthy Zones programme on hold. Yet with a newly recruited team in place, we were keen to continue to support children. We knew that lockdown would have a major impact on children’s diets, and we were well placed to help.    

Getting nutritious food to children in need 

The Breakfast Boxes programme launched in May 2020, providing nutritious food to children and young people in need, many of whom were pushed by the pandemic into food poverty. The Project Officers worked tirelessly contacting all the schools in Lambeth and Southwark to make them aware of the offer.  

“On our first week of delivery, we had interest from 8 schools. We kept ringing, emailing and sharing the word in all possible ways. We knew there was need with breakfast clubs now closed and no support for those meals whilst everyone was at home.” (Sabine, SFM Project Officer) 

It wasn’t long before the number of schools signed up rose to over 100, which came with its challenges. SFM is not a food distribution charity at core, and it was a steep learning curve for the team, especially when we were all working remotely. 

“It was not an easy task. We had last minute requests for more boxes and changes to delivery times, which meant calls back and forth with the food supplier, and many spreadsheets to keep up to date. However, the emails we received from schools expressing their thanks, and the fact that we were able to help during these difficult times, was a reward that cannot be described.” (Sabine, SFM Project Officer) 

A Pandemic Pivot

We continued to deliver nutritious breakfasts throughout school closures, and with additional funding from the Food Power for Generation Covid initiative and generous donations from the public, we were also able to support families throughout school holidays. By March 2021, we had arrived at a major milestone. We had delivered one million breakfasts.  

In addition to breakfasts, we partnered with Chefs in Schools to deliver over 200,000 nutritious lunches, which were a lifeline to local families that were not registered to Free School Meals. 

A Pandemic Pivot

The important role of schools 

These figures are a testament to the incredible dedication of schools, which recruited armies of staff, volunteers, parents, past pupils and even the local Met police to help ensure all families they deemed vulnerable to food insecurity were reached. During the summer, Hope, a Project Officer at SFM visited a school in Lambeth that had stayed open during the school holidays in order to continue receiving, packing and delivering the breakfasts to their local families. It was an eye-opening experience to see the whole operation in action and a lovely opportunity to chat with the children and parents.  

She worked closely with the schools that also received lunch hampers. This involved a separate weekly delivery of freshly cooked meals, in addition to the breakfast boxes. 

A Pandemic Pivot

“Working with schools receiving breakfast boxes and lunch hampers was inspiring. Before the pandemic my respect for schools was high, now it’s through the roof! From caretakers to headteachers, their can-do attitude and dedication to ensure children were supported and felt part of their communities was impressive.” (Hope, SFM Project Officer) 

However, the scale of food provision is also a stark reflection of the precarious and scary reality many families find themselves in. The programme has been invaluable not only to those identified as needing support from Government, but also those who fall between the cracks. Our research showed one in four children who receive our breakfast boxes are not entitled to Free School Meals. Schools and parents have told us how vital the food deliveries have been.  

“I would like to take a minute to express my gratitude for the amazing breakfast boxes which have helped to keep my family and many others afloat during these difficult times. It is so refreshing to see people coming together to help their communities. The extra help has really been appreciated, so a huge thank you to all the lovely, kind people at School Food Matters.” (Parent, Lambeth) 

Harris Boys Academy

Schools have also told us how important the programme has been in enabling them to maintain contact with children and families during the pandemic while schools were closed and children were home learning.  

“The introduction of the Breakfast Boxes has enabled the school to have contact and conversations with more than 500 children and families in receipt of the boxes, rebuilding valuable links and opening up dialogue.” (Teacher, Southwark) 

An increased appetite for Healthy Zones

We know that our nutritious breakfasts have already created opportunities for children to try new foods.

“We were so excited to see what was in the bag. We honestly couldn’t wait to eat all of it.” (Student, Southwark)

“Such a colourful box, it’s fantastic to see when my pupils don’t always access such a variety.” 

(Headteacher, Primary School in Southwark)

John Ruskin

With schools now reopened, we hope this positive relationship with food will continue and that this new focus on good nutrition will continue during our work with schools in Lambeth and Southwark through our Healthy Zones programme. Breakfast Boxes has facilitated invaluable conversations with schools about children’s health and nutrition, so we can now build on this momentum through the summer term and beyond. 

“[The Breakfast Box programme] has really put an emphasis on the importance of a healthy breakfast for our students. We are now looking at building food technology into our curriculum and having a salad bar at lunch, which is really exciting.” (Teacher, Secondary School in Lambeth) 

“The Breakfast Box programme was a gateway to schools, a catalyst in building relationships with schools and the community in which they serve.”(Ayanna, SFM Project Officer) 

We know that schools are juggling additional complexities with bubbles and coronavirus testing, but we feel optimistic that the next few months will generate incredibly valuable learning for us as a team at this early stage in the Healthy Zone programme. The Project Officers are just starting to visit schools and hear from staff about their school food priorities, many of which have shifted due to the pandemic.   

“I’m really excited to harness this creativity, positivity and commitment in our Healthy Zones work together” (Hope, SFM Project Officer) 

“We have developed unique relationships with key post holders, who are relevant to the success of implementing the Healthy Zone programme in schools. This means we can fine-tune our approach during the planning and implementation. For example, menus can be more diverse and inclusive to represent the demographic of each school, including cultural and religious preferences.” (Ayanna, SFM Project Officer)