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First-of-its-kind free meals scheme praised by Scottish charity

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A pioneering free meals scheme which has served up more than 22,000 hot lunches to Renfrewshire children during school holidays has been praised by a leading Scottish charity.

The Renfrewshire Council project – the first of its kind in Scotland to offer free meals during each school holiday – has now provided 22,300 healthy meals as part of a drive to tackle poverty and support local families.

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The project – which has just reached its second anniversary – has been hailed by Children 1st for recognising that children’s need for good food “doesn’t stop at the end of the school term.”

Primary one, two and three children who are entitled to school clothing grants, plus any older siblings at primary school, can receive a free meal and five hours of activities, each week day throughout the entire spring, summer, and October, holidays, and during the Christmas holidays.

Councillor Mark Macmillan, Renfrewshire Council Leader, said: “Renfrewshire is unfortunately home to Scotland’s third busiest foodbank, and when I heard of cases where families have to take their children to local foodbanks during school holidays, I was determined to put a safety net in place – and so our free hot meals scheme was set up during summer 2013.

“We’re now two years on – and while I’m proud to say we’ve served up 22,000 free hot lunches over holidays to local children who really benefit from having that meal, I’m also saddened that so many local families continue to face poverty. This is something I want to address through Renfrewshire Council’s tackling poverty fund which will let us take forward the recommendations of the Renfrewshire Tackling Poverty Commission, over coming years.”

Children 1st Chief Executive Alison Todd, said: “Children 1ST works closely with children who experience poverty, and we know how important free school meals can be for their health and life chances. Renfrewshire Council is to be applauded for recognising that children’s need for good food doesn’t stop at the end of the school term, and for helping ensure that they come back from holidays well fed and ready to learn.”

Councillor Jacqueline Henry, Convener for Education and Children added: “The feedback we receive from parents is extremely positive and they tell us the free meals really ease the burden for them during the holidays. This summer we saw a 44% rise in uptake of the service from the previous summer due to the scheme’s free activity sessions being increased to five hours from two and a half hours. This is fantastic news.”

The free meals and activities are delivered across Renfrewshire, in 12 local venues that include schools and sports centres.

The Renfrewshire scheme was the first in Scotland to offer free meals to pupils throughout the entire spring, summer, and October holidays, and to offer meals during the Christmas break. It was also the first of its kind to offer meals at locations throughout the council area.

As well as children from across Renfrewshire who are entitled to clothing grants being invited along, children can also be referred to receive free meals during holidays by social workers, head teachers, health visitors, and the council’s advice works team.