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Food poverty – How Shaw Education Trust operates food banks from its schools

It’s heartwarming and humbling to see how much our community appreciates our efforts to support them, says Jo Morgan...

  • Food poverty – How Shaw Education Trust operates food banks from its schools

At the beginning of the pandemic, as supermarket shelves emptied and people began to lose their jobs, we recognised that a number of our families were suffering from financial strain.

Using an initial donation from our sponsor, Shaw Trust, we took it upon ourselves to set up food banks to provide vulnerable families with essential supplies.

The pandemic really highlighted a heightened need to extend our schools’ duty of care outside of the building, in order to effectively support our young people during this time.

I know that similar schemes were set up through numerous schools and local authorities across the country, providing parents with some financial respite. However, as the school term came to a close in July, the heightened risk of ‘holiday hunger’ posed a very real threat.

Eager to reduce the risk for our students, we made bids for several national grants to enable us to continue supporting families over the summer break and were grateful to be awarded a substantial sum of money by the National Lottery.

Thanks to our dedicated team of volunteers, we were able to still operate food banks at several locations over the summer, ensuring that our vulnerable families could access provision in their area.

Using local knowledge, we identified the families who had been particularly impacted by the pandemic – students eligible for free school meals, key workers, those who had lost work – and provided support directly to those in need.

The funding from the National Lottery meant we were able to offer families a variety of food and meet complex dietary needs, as well as offer a delivery service to those in isolation.

An added benefit of the food banks was that it meant staff were able to keep in touch with students, checking how they were coping, making sure they had everything they needed and organising homework.

My colleague Sam Barber, a staff member at Wolstanton High in Newcastle-Under-Lyme, coordinated our largest food bank, helping ten different Staffordshire schools access supplies.

By collaborating with staff across the trust, over 80 families from our local primary, secondary and special schools were able to access the food bank on a weekly basis.

Sam told me that while others may have seen it as a logistical nightmare, she saw it as her duty. It has by no means been an easy ride, but it has proven to be one of great need and appreciation.

Given the continuously developing knowledge of Covid-19, we’ve had to keep arrangements under continuous review, but families have been really cooperative with implementing the safety precautions and our volunteers feel their wellbeing is effectively protected.

It’s been both heartwarming and humbling to see how much these families appreciate our efforts.

Numerous parents have contacted us to thank us, with one parent saying, “We don’t know what we would have done without the support of the school. It is brilliant and a massive help.”

Comments like this make all the hard work and hurdles we’ve had to jump worthwhile. Knowing we are making a positive impact by supporting our school community during these difficult times is what it is all about.

We’ve also been able to implement this provision in our special schools, where many students’ complex health needs mean they are at high-risk and need to isolate.

Amanda Cameron, principal of Walton Hall Academy, says the operation has been a “real team effort” and staff have been “wonderful” in collecting, sorting and delivering food parcels directly to families, with several even volunteering to continue over the summer.

As always, our staff have gone above and beyond, also delivering food vouchers, pet supplies, and providing a friendly listening ear to those suffering from the effects of continued isolation.

The whole operation has demonstrated the unswerving dedication of our staff to ensure our students and their families remain emotionally and physically supported.

With the new school year now here, many are feeling daunted by the year of change ahead of them.

But if the past six or seven months have proven anything, it’s that schools – no matter their phase, sector or location – are all striving for the same common goal: to effectively support young people and secure their bright futures.

Working together, this is looking very much achievable.

Jo Morgan is the chief executive of Shaw Education Trust which has academies in the West Midlands, Halton, Derby and Greater Manchester. Find out more at shaw-education.org.uk and follow on Twitter @shawedutrust.

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