Written by Dr Jane O’Connor, Senior Researcher in Education
A huge issue for many disadvantaged families in the West Midlands, and indeed nationally, is what to do with their children during the long summer holidays. The lack of routine and structure of school and the pressure of keeping their children fed and entertained all day can lead to extra stress on families already under financial and emotional strain. Additionally research has shown that children from disadvantaged families often demonstrate what has been termed ‘summer slide’ whereby their academic achievement levels dip after the holidays if they have had no opportunity to be involved with educational activities in their time away from school.
For these reasons, and in order to complement government investments to meet Child Poverty commitments laid out in the 2010 Child Poverty Act, several charities in the West Midlands got together last summer to run Holiday Kitchens – a structured programme of meals and activities for children and families who need it most during the summer holidays. The Holiday Kitchen programme ran in eleven children’s and community centres with almost 300 participants, supported by a diverse range of community, commissioner, staff, sponsor and volunteer stakeholders.
The research team at Birmingham City University was asked to evaluate the project in relation to its effectiveness in achieving its three core objectives of: improved social inclusion and aspiration; improved family nutrition and wellbeing and reduced financial and emotional strain. The programme ran for two to four weeks at each centre and provided breakfast and lunch for families as well as a range of educational and fun activities around nutrition, well-being and financial planning including ‘make & taste’, ‘field to fork’ and day trips to local places of interest. Our evaluation showed overwhelmingly positive responses from parents and children and clear evidence that Holiday Kitchen was effective in meeting the core project objectives. The children found the activities fun and enjoyed learning where their food comes from and how to cook simple dishes. One child said:
‘I have found most things about Holiday Kitchen very useful because it has helped me by eating healthy food and not always eating junk food all the time.’
Many mums commented on the way that Holiday Kitchen relieved emotional stress and strain and appreciated sitting and eating together, socialising with other families and just having the opportunity to have fun with their children.
Overall the success of Holiday Kitchen came down to meeting a clear community need in an accessible and fun way. It is hoped that the project is going to be rolled out nationally next summer and that BCU will be on board again to continue evaluating the effectiveness of this simple yet innovative programme.
The full project report is available here if you would like to read more about it: