Earlier this year, public pressure had caused the government to backtrack on its initial refusal to provide free meals to children from low-income families over the summer holiday, and to begrudgingly create a £120m "Covid summer food fund". However, the British government has since refused to extend free school meals over the recent half-term period or the upcoming Christmas period.
With the disturbing realisation that even the most vulnerable cannot rely on parliamentary officials – or their own elected government representatives – to meet their most basic needs, many restaurants, pubs, and food vendors across London have volunteered free meals to schoolchildren who need them most. As Manchester United football player Marcus Rashford stated in his campaign against this decision, without these meals many children will “go to bed hungry” and "feeling like they do not matter".
Having himself received free school meals as a child, he reflected that "the system isn't build for families like mine to succeed". With this statement, Rashford underlines the issues of income and class inequalities in Britain, inequalities which have only become starker in light of the devastating Covid-19 pandemic, yet which remain wilfully unaddressed by those in power.
Boris Johnson's government continues on this path as it refuses to extend the free school meals scheme through half term or Christmas. As Kate Green, Shadow Education Secretary, keenly observed, "[Boris Johnson and the Conservatives have] badly let down more than one million children and their families”. In times of need such as those the country is experiencing right now, the Tory government's failure of lower-income families is duly felt.
The capital’s food industry’s response has been loud, and been echoed through many press outlets and social media posts sharing who is offering what, and where. This article aims to facilitate people’s access to information regarding this topic, by sharing where children in need can receive free, nutritious lunches, as there is the chance a few of these places will extend their offering beyond this half-term.
Here are some key resources you are encouraged to check out and share. You never know who might need it, or who may not have seen (such is the beauty of the butterfly effect).
Mam Sham's Google Drive List
“Event throwers, comedic duo and pie collaborators” Mam Sham have compiled a fantastic resource detailing which vendors are donating free school meals, their locations, contact information, and a rough idea of what is included in said meals. This list can be accessed here. You can read The Bistro Boys' interview with Mam Sham here to get to know this wonderful duo a little better.
School Meal Finder Map
You can also use the interactive School Meal Finder, which is a brilliant resource due to its map format, making it easy and quick to use.
Two Ever-Growing Guides to Restaurants Offering Free Meals
Restaurant decider and reviewer The Infatuation has a sizeable restaurant database, which they have used to put together a list of vendors offering free school meals and which is updated on a regular basis.
And finally, The Resident packs an incredibly long yet organised list of participating restaurants from all corners of the city. Click here for their carefully curated contribution to this cause.
Hawkker vendors are also amongst those partaking in this initiative. One such person is Darren Simpson, director of the mouth-watering, hand-pressed burger joint Nanny Bill’s; we spoke with Darren about his involvement in donating meals to kids in need.
What led you to volunteer food for disadvantaged children?
Having grown up benefiting from free school meals and milk tokens, I know from a personal point of view just how important these are. Now as a business owner, I feel it’s only right to do what one can and look after our community and future generations.
How does a business stay afloat while providing free meals, and what does the process of supplying them look like?
As you may know, it is and has been the toughest year for business and particularly the hospitality industry. The number one piece of advice I can give is to be adaptable, so you can keep up with the ever-changing marketplace.
And although cash flow isn’t exactly great right now, it’s ever more important to help where we can. In regards to the process of supplying free meals, it’s quite simple. We promoted through our social media channels, offering a meal to any child who wanted one and was accompanied by an adult, no questions asked. It’s nice to be nice!
Do you have any advice to encourage other small food businesses to do the same, even beyond half term?
Do only what you can, every little helps. And I know from the feedback and response we’ve had that it’s greatly appreciated.
What sort of meals are you providing as part of the initiative?
We were offering a burger and fries to any child who wanted them. Including a vegan/vegetarian option.
Is there anything else you want us to know?
Our brand is based on the values of a family business, in the name of our late grandma. She would have been appalled by the government decision to leave these kids out of a very simple and un-costly programme, and she’d be proud that we could help in any way at all.