Context and identified need
School holidays are pressure points for some families, particularly those who have children eligible for free school meals, because of increased costs. There is growing evidence that children from disadvantaged families experience poor physical, mental and social wellbeing during the school holidays. Therefore, the Active Essex Foundation introduced the Holiday Hunger initiative in 2019 to respond directly to the needs of children among the counties most deprived families.
In Essex up until 2019, there was a limited use of a whole-system approach to tackle societal issues such as holiday hunger. The Active Essex Foundation worked across numerous settings to tackle this issue alongside, physical inactivity and influence a county-wide policy. The Foundation placed trust in community consortiums by developing a bottom-up approach, which built upon the strengths in the community, rather than focusing on what wasn’t working.
The holiday hunger activity clubs targeted young people aged 5- 18 years, who were eligible for benefits based free school meals or who were identified at risk of suffering from food insecurity. The offer was extended to the whole family to access food packages, physical activity sessions, support and to encourage social interaction.
As coordinator, the Active Essex Foundation led a development phase that drew together 56 organisations who worked with vulnerable families from across Essex. Through sharing knowledge and insight, the relationships of partners strengthened, which in turn created new and innovative approaches. Organisations spanned across the county in the Community, Health, Community Safety, Social Care and Education sectors. Subsequently, proposals were invited from consortiums that adopted a collaborative approach to address holiday hunger and physical activity.
23 Projects across the county, 3,276 young people reached through 2019 Summer programme, £29,315 funding through the Essex LDP and Active Essex
Over the lifespan of the Holiday Hunger initiative, the Active Essex Foundation continue to be responsive to the growing need of support to this key target audience. A strong network of over 100 locally trusted organisations has now been established along with close links to other areas of our Children and Young People work and the Essex Local Delivery Pilot.
The global Covid-19 pandemic, caused (and continues to place) further financial strain on these families and therefore the work of the Foundation became even more pivotal.
Continued need and Covid response
Building on the success of the 2019 whole system approach to tackling holiday hunger and through the established strong partnership between Essex County Council, the Active Essex Foundation and Active Essex the delivery of mass participation holiday activity programmes for children and families who needed extra support for Summer 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic was achieved.
This programme was developed based on the blueprint of the 2019 Holiday Hunger initiative, but also as a response to the additional challenges being faced by working families across the county with regards to childcare and free school meals. Led by Cllr McKinlay, Cabinet Member for Children and Families, the programme was delivered in twelve local authority council areas in recognition of the fact that many families had been financially impacted because of the pandemic. These families who were already ‘just about managing’ were now facing poverty and it was important the Foundation also provided every young person with a free packed lunch.
The Summer Holiday Club programme was the first of its kind in the country and was available for working parents to send their child to a safe space for indoor and outdoor play, whilst adhering to government guidelines relating to Covid-19.
The Active Essex Foundation were able to quickly mobilise their network of locally trusted organisations to deliver a programme that provided fun physical activity, for five days a week with every child being provided with a nutritious meal.
Prime Objective: to provide free childcare, financial aid and a free lunch
Second Objective: support children's physical and mental wellbeing during this period of continued Covid restrictions.
- 22,850 free places were made available
- 3,458 young people supported
- 2,628 families supported
- 20 Organisations, 14 projects, £263,000 from Essex County Council working families’ budget
- 87% of participants were inactive before attending
- 93% of parents said physical activity was a key benefit
- 89% of parents felt it improved mental wellbeing (for them and their children)
Delivering this project, demonstrated the importance of working cohesively across our ecosystem, utilising local knowledge and collaborating with wider partners effectively. In addition to the programmes, 2,500 active packs with equipment and games ideas along with 5,000 printed family support pack were distributed.
With thanks to the dedication and relationships built by the Active Essex team, the summer holiday offer was developed and mobilised in around three weeks!
Momentum continued, with programmes and funding totalling £124,235 allocated from the Essex County Council Contain Outbreak Management Fund extended to cover October and Christmas holiday provision. With ever-changing restrictions, the Holiday Hunger delivery team were required to constantly adapt. Due to tougher restrictions that were put in place just before Christmas 2020, it meant that the physical activity aspect of the initiative had to be cancelled. Nonetheless, the team work tirelessly to ensure food packages and online activities were offered to all families who had signed up to the Christmas programme.
Extended funding will also ensure provision continues through February half term based around virtual activity delivery, food and activity boxes and additional information on local support.
What worked and top tips!
- Having a local coordinator for these projects, well placed as a countywide organisation working with grassroots organisations with the key role of identifying and bringing partners together, reaching countywide partners, local authority groups, food banks as well as providing support to all consortiums in the development and delivery of the projects.
- Engaging a diverse range of stakeholders who were pivotal in the development of the overall programme created a deeper understanding of the complexities involved in holiday hunger and identified potential solutions from organisations across different sectors working collaboratively.
- Effective referral pathways accessed through the complex network of partners, participants for these activity clubs can be specifically targeted and referred into the programmes allowing the opportunities to be accessed by those most in need in the communities.
- Flexible approach with contingency plans
- Targeted comms and recruitment strategies that were created and developed with partners
2021 Holiday Activities and Food Programme (HAF Funding)
Current figures show that Essex have approximately 32,480 children and young people eligible for receipt of Free School Meals.
Funding from the National HAF Programme has now been agreed for Essex at £4,020,060. With this funding comes a more robust framework and criteria for delivery but once again, our collaborative, whole systems approach will be essential.
In Essex we want to deliver an enhanced offer that reaches every young person who is eligible for benefits based free school meals. This programme offers much more then food provision and it is our aim to provide education around leading a healthy life style, cooking healthy meals on a budget, physical and enriching activities, local role models, sign posting to other local organisations and a whole support system that helps families and young people get back on their feet after a challenging time during the pandemic. Through this model we aim to support every young person who is eligible for benefits based free school meals over the school holiday period.
Easter provision may not include face to face delivery depending on guidelines and restrictions however we will develop our programme based on design and learnings of our February delivery which includes a virtual programme.
We are currently working with other Active Partnerships in our region to share approaches. We would be happy to share further information and progress as soon as we have further updates.
For more inforamtion please contact Dawn Emberson - Relationship Manager Dawn.Emberson@ActiveEssex.org