How Shropshire firms are stepping in amid political row over free school meals

As the political row over free school meals dominates the headlines groups across the county have been quietly stepping forward, providing an avalanche of help to families.

Town House owner Daniel Derrington
Town House owner Daniel Derrington

The public response to Marcus Rashford’s campaign has seen group after group offering support and help for those struggling over half term.

Food banks, football clubs, churches, restaurants, cafes, fish and chip shops, and schools, have all been part of the heart-warming response, making sure children do not go hungry while their school is shut.

The issue is a long-time concern, with the pandemic bringing the situation to the fore earlier this year.

The long-term closure of schools during lockdown highlighted the impact on those who rely on the meals, with the shut-down leading to the prospect of children going without food they would normally receive at school. Rashford’s campaign led to the government providing the meals while schools were closed.

Adrian Pendleton, Russell Garner and Lorna Hicks at Wrekin View Primary School and Nursery in Wellington, where the hall has been turned into a community cafe for half term

In the wake of the parliamentary vote last week – which saw a Labour motion calling for the meals to be funded out of term-time defeated by the government – the public have rallied round to step in for the half-term.

One foodbank has joined forces with three local businesses to provide the meals, declaring ‘The spirit of Marcus Rashford is alive and well in Bishop’s Castle’.

Andy Stelman, who runs Bishop’s Castle Foodbank said he jumped at the idea when it was suggested by local residents Glynn and Anne Roberts.

The Happy Bap, Kirsty’s Cafe and Bishop’s Castle Delight Fish and Chip Shop have all united with the foodbank to make sure the meals are provided.

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Andy said: “What we are doing is that we have arranged with three outlets in Bishop’s Castle to provide free lunches for children and young people who qualify for free school meals.

“We have said we will pay the costs of those meals to the businesses as much as we can. I hope from this other people might feel moved to make a financial contribution as well so we can cover the costs.”

A Telford primary school has also opened a community café during the half term week, offering free hot and healthy food to local people in need. Wrekin View Primary School in Wellington, which won top prize at this year’s Shropshire Chamber Champion Awards for its ‘community fridge’, will be opening the cafe from 10am to 2.30pm every day this week.

Ease

Russell Garner, the school’s site manager, said: “Anyone can come along to this, and it’s all free. All we ask is that people give some money, if they can, into our donations box.”

Wrekin View has already received multiple awards and national acclaim this year for its community fridge, set up to ensure local people have access to fresh food and drink during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Visitors to the community café can also drop into the community fridge on their way out, if they are in need of supplies.

Meanwhile, AFC Telford United have teamed up with the Telford and Wrekin Interfaith Council to organise food parcels during half term for families across College, Arleston and Wellington. The club will contribute to the cost of 260 parcels over half term, providing two weeks’ worth of food for more than 130 families.

Club chairman Andy Pryce said: “We understand people are struggling and as a football club we would like to support our local community to help ease the worry of feeding your family during the half term holiday.”

Parents at Severndale Specialist Academy in Shrewsbury whose children qualify for free school meals have also been given vouchers for their local supermarkets.

Sabrina Hobbs, principal at Severndale, a school for pupils with special education needs (SEN), said they wanted to support the families affected.

Jessica Tiernan-Reese, who runs the unofficial Severndale Parents Voice Facebook page, said the parents were overwhelmed at the school’s response.

Complex

“We were not expecting it at all,” she said. “There has been no word from the school and with the Government’s stance at the moment we were not expecting support, being parents of children with special needs.

“My son, Justin, has autism and he is very selective with what he eats, as many children with special needs are. It can build an extra expense.

“A lot of parents were not expecting half term to happen so when it was made clear it was going to happen, I am sure a lot of parents were thinking, how am I going to cope. It’s alright for the Government to say it’s not our job to feed your children, but parents need help and that’s a fact.”

Jessica said the decision “means the world” to SEN parents.

Ms Hobbs said: “The pandemic has caused many knock on issues to our society and those who are disadvantaged have struggled the most. Our families who all have children with complex needs, have additional considerations and factors to manage in their lives. Insecurities in employment, furlough, redundancies, local lockdowns and the reduction of support of family, friends and professionals, due to lockdown restrictions, hit our families the hardest.”

The Town House restaurant in Market Drayton has stepped in to provide hundreds of meals to the town’s food bank. Owner Daniel Derrington dropped off 320 portions of food first thing on Monday morning, to provide for children who need them. The meals include lasagne, chicken curry with pilau rice, minestrone soup with homemade bread, chocolate brownies and chocolate custard. Daniel said: “The subject has caused a lot of controversy since it was announced and at the Town House we try and steer well clear of politics. However, as we are a restaurant and food is what we do.”

Market Drayton Town Council also contributed to the meals.

A statement from the Market Drayton Foodbank said: “A huge thank you to The Town House and suppliers.”

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