The Coronavirus pandemic has exposed major weaknesses in our food system, not least the scale of food insecurity that has meant children reliant on free school meals have been left hungry and without adequate provision.
Urgent action is needed now and in the face of potential future disruption.
At Food for Life and Soil Association we are working hard at both a policy level to secure change nationally, and at a programme level to provide support to people who need it most.
Our mission remains that good food should be easily available for everyone, everywhere and every day. This pandemic has made access to good food an even more urgent issue, and our work is needed now more than ever.
Here’s how we are responding during the Coronavirus pandemic:
Supporting access to good food
Our policy team have been working hard behind the scenes, continuing to call on government to make school meal provision available over the school holidays as well as during term time, both to children eligible for Free School Meals and to those ineligible but living in food insecure households.
We had success with this over the Easter holidays and summer holidays. Although we were disappointed that free school meals provision was not extended to the October half term, we were delighted when the Government committed to spending around £400m to support vulnerable families in England. The scheme will be run by councils to support with food and bills.
Our guidance for schools and caterers on Free School Meals remains regularly updated in-line with the Government’s latest advice, enabling our communities to rely on as a source of up-to-date information and advice.
Continuing food education during first lockdown
During the first lockdown across the UK 135 schools took up the offer of free of charge Membership, enabling them access to a whole range of resources to support their teaching.
Food for Life schools received practical teaching guides and lesson plans that were ideal for smaller class sizes and more time spent outdoors. We also asked schools to share with their parents who are home-educating.
For Food for Life early years settings, we similarly shared resources for families that covered nutrition basics and exploratory food education, as well as partnering with TastEd to promote sensory, non-judgemental food education for this age group.
We are also continuing to provide a series of training courses and webinars to support schools on a range of topics.
We also created resources for schools, nurseries as well as cooks and caterers to support them to plan for safe and Covid secure mealtimes when they reopened.
Support for school cooks and caterers
The school cooks and catering community has risen to the challenge of keeping food on the table for those who need it during the Coronavirus pandemic. Our dedicated Cooks and Caterers Covid-19 Facebook Group is being well used by this community to share their experiences, problem solve and support one another.
We have launched a series of short, practical training courses to help and are working on further useful tools.
Support communities’ emergency response to Coronavirus
Food for Life Get Togethers made £70,000 available to fund emergency community food responses to Coronavirus across the UK.
We provided funding of up to £1,000 to 73 community and voluntary sector organisations that are reaching some of our most vulnerable citizens. The money funded community support initiatives, including fresh food supplies for low-income households, growing kits to enable people to grow their own food when they are self-isolating, and online cookery classes so that families can learn to cook from scratch in a fun way. Read more about it here.
Food for Life Get Togethers continues to share the learning from this and other inspiring examples of communities stepping up, innovating and adapting their community led food activities and facilitate peer networking, training and smaller grants to enable good food citizenship.
Making change at a national level
As well as offering practical support on the ground to our schools, parents, early years setting and caterers, we know that lasting change needs to be embedded by Government policy.
Soil Association’s food policy and influence work is striving to ensure:
- A resilient food and farming system. Food production that doesn’t safeguard the natural world leaves us vulnerable. Read a recent blog on this from our Policy & Strategy Director here.
- That we transition away from intensive farming – otherwise we risk future pandemics and the threat of antimicrobial resistance. Read more on this here.
- UK diets are re-oriented around fresh and minimally processed foods, and away from ultra-processed foods
- That we achieve a comprehensive and cohesive National Food Strategy
Food for Life: for now and for our future
Alongside focusing on immediate needs right now, we are also preparing for the future.
We believe we have a vital role to play in being ready to support our communities when we emerge from this crisis and its impact. Work is underway in many spheres ranging from: helping teachers, school cooks and caterers to plan and cope while delivering meals under social distancing; continuing to support local workforces and investing in local skills through provision such as our cooks’ training courses; and ensuring Free School Meals are adequately funded and that provision is long term, not just during this immediate crisis period.
“Commissioning Food for Life will be paramount for us over the next year: securing the wellbeing and health of our young people post-coronavirus will be more important than ever.”
Vikki Tolley, Public Health Practitioner (Children’s Healthy Weight / Oral Health / Health in Education), Public Health Service, Walsall MBC
At Food for Life our programmes and policy work join the dots between people and health, our climate and nature. We know that changing how we eat reduces our impact on our world, makes our relationship with food more sustainable, and improves our physical and mental health.
The coronavirus pandemic has made access to good food an even more urgent issue with our work needed more than ever, for now and for our future.