Together for Children Sunderland's Summer Bus rolls into town to prevent holiday hunger and get children active

Children in Houghton enjoyed a nutritious meal and a family day of fun-filled activities as the Council’s Summer Bus rolled into town.

Thursday, 19th August 2021, 10:44 am

The initiative at Houghton Kepier Academy was part of Together for Children Sunderland’s drive to prevent holiday hunger and ensure the city’s children don’t go without healthy food over the summer break.

While food voucher provision was introduced to support children in receipt of free school meals (FSM) during the pandemic it was not extended to cover the summer holidays with funding instead to provide meals as part of activity days.

With 10,500 FSM children across the city, Together for Children, who oversee Children’s Services on behalf of the Council, thought it was “vital” for provision to continue.

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Rebecca Dawson, 35, with her children James, 4, and Lucy, 8, having their free nutritious lunch provided by the Summer Bus at Houghton Kepier Academy. Picture by Frank Reid

Director for Early Help, Karen Davison, said: “If you have children entitled to FSM, that need doesn’t go away over the summer holidays and the feedback we’ve had from parents has been very appreciative.

"In addition to taking part in free, fun activities everyone picked up a free healthy packed lunch where children can try nutritious foods such as carrots and hummus.

"They can also get packets of seeds to take away and grow their own vegetables.”

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Nikki Donaldson, engagement officer for Together for Children, chatting with Talia Blench, 12, on the Summer Bus. Picture by Frank Reid

Children also got to scale a mobile climbing wall, enjoy dance classes, play drums and take part in a range of sports. They also learned about the importance of nutrition and could even make their own fruit smoothies on the smoothie push bike.

One parent to benefit was Vicki Bray, 40, whose son Seth, six, attends Our Lady Queen of Peace School in Penshaw and is entitled to FSM.

Vicki said: “The summer can be hard for families who need help with food during the holidays and not just in term-time. If you have three children then it’s not easy to provide three healthy meals each day.

"This is a brilliant initiative and it’s really good that it’s free. It’s a great thing that Marcus Rashford has brought the importance of meals for children to people’s attention.”

(left to right) Vicki, Seth and Gareth Bray with their dog Ellie are full of smiles at the Summer Bus. Vicki said the initiative was "brilliant" for families. Picture by Frank Reid

Seth added: “I really enjoyed making the fruit smoothie on the bike. It’s not something I have had before.”

While initially set up for FSM children the service has been extended to support all the city’s families.

Mum Rebecca Dawson, 35, said: “It has been a brilliant day out without having to always put your hand in your pocket.

Seth Bray, six, dresses as a police officer at the Summer Bus event as Police officer Jim Gordon looks on. Picture by Frank Reid

“It was great to get a picnic lunch as families can’t always afford to have lunch out.”

Between 4pm and 8pm the bus hosts the Sunset Session for teenagers.

Early Help service manager Jane Wheeler said: “There’s music decks, street dance and boxing sessions for the young people. They also get the chance to make their own healthy chicken kebabs.”

The Summer Bus is part of the wider Wear Here 4 Summer programme taking place at venues across the city.

Jane added: “There are 25 wards and we identified eight which didn’t have a suitable provider and so we’ve been using the Summer Bus to bring activities and healthy food to these locations.”

Both Jane and Karen hope one positive outcome of the pandemic is the recognition of the continued need to support FSM families with food provision outside of term-time and are hopeful that funding will be made available to continue the initiative beyond this year.

The Summer Bus rolled into Houghton Kepier Academy grounds to provide nutritious meals and fun activities for children. Picture by Frank Reid

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(Left) Karen Davison, director of Early Help at Together for Children Sunderland and service manager Jane Wheeler along with Holly Meldrum in front of the Summer Bus. Picture by Frank Reid