School Food Matters was founded in 2007 by Stephanie Slater, a parent perplexed by the school food offered to her two small children; frozen food, unappealing and quite often unidentifiable.
Only 26% of children across 38 primary schools in the London Borough of Richmond were choosing to take a school meal. There was clearly a job to be done.
Our quest was to actively engage parents and head teachers about the quality and delivery of school meals and to persuade the local authority to come up with a better offer for children in the borough.
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) and Zac Goldsmith, then the parliamentary candidate for Richmond Park.
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 authority. A school food working party was established, with representations from schools, parents, national campaign groups and School Food Matters. Our key role was to bring the voice of parents to the table and to lobby local councillors around our campaign goals.
In May 2011 the new contract for Richmond was awarded. Meals in Richmond are now being cooked fresh on site and meet Food for Life Served Here gold catering 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). Perhaps more significantly, the price of a school meal dropped by 38p despite a substantial increase in the quality of the meal on offer.
School Food Matters has earned a reputation for being a highly effective voice in school food advocacy. We continue to participate in several high-level policy steering groups, including the Expert Panel for the School Food Plan and advisory groups on school food standards and funding within the Department for Education.
We’re proud to have triggered the transformation of school food in Richmond’s primary schools. This success has made us confident that our campaign approach works and that we can offer a valuable service to parents, schools and local authorities who are seeking change.