Evening Standard Feature
Food For London Now faces: ‘Children can’t learn if they’re hungry’
The headteacher of Hammersmith Academy’s message is clear, if children are hungry then they can’t learn.
The school in Shepherd’s Bush has been prioritising education around nutrition and food with its innovative community garden which allows students develop leadership skills and learn about seeds and planting.
Now teachers are harvesting food from the school garden to add to food donations they receive from The Felix Project.
Headteacher Gary Kynaston shares how the school has been providing food donations for struggling families during the coronavirus lockdown.
How and why did you get involved with the Felix Project?
“I’d heard of the Felix Project because my wife is a primary school teacher and she had an introduction to them via her school.
I asked my team to look into it, but because of the speed of what was happening with the pandemic I decided to contact them directly just before the lockdown happened.
Half of our students are premium, [they are eligible for free school meals] and I could pre-empt what was coming with the lockdown.I knew it was going to be a critical time for some of our families.
The speed of engagement from the Felix Project was fantastic. We went from an email to direct communication and within a week had our first delivery.
We worked on the basis that we hadn’t done it before so we started on a low amount of about 15 to 20 crates and now we’re up to around 25 – 50 crates three times a week.
Within a month we’ve gone from feeding 30 families to approximately 70 families.
Something that we’ve done additionally, is we delivered Easter boxes to our families who are most in need. We provided them with some chocolate, books and games.
I’ve worked for 30 years in city education and I recognise the immediate need for children that are coming from low income backgrounds.”
How have you seen demand change over the past six weeks?
“The number of families that are arriving has more than doubled in four weeks. We’re also asking families if they need anything specific to come to the school and then we will see what we can do.
There are potentially a number of other families who are in precarious work environments who may have been furloughed and may not necessarily understand what their rights are or what their opportunities are.
The key thing for us is, we want to make people feel secure and we’ve had some really positive feedback as a result.
We receive the food from The Felix Project and then we create mixed bags of vegetables and non-perishables and redistribute that.
There’s some incredible products that we are getting. There seemed to be a glut of spring onions that came last week, so we’re asking our students via Instagram to share anything they may cook and any recipe ideas they may have.”
Is there a single incident or person who embodies what you are trying to achieve?
“My teaching and support staff have been absolutely fantastic for coming in and volunteering and also our Governors.
The parents are so respectful of what we’re doing and are really appreciative. They queue appropriately and one of the things we’re trying to identify is the families who may not be on our normal list.
And again that’s the critical thing, people are so dignified and proud that sometimes it can be hard to get under the skin of things and find out the truth,. People tend to have a British ‘fine’ response.
We’ve got to make sure that our children and our families continue to be strong and resilient during this difficult time. The level of engagement we get through the Felix Project really helps with this.
We’ve had some standout moments where our student chief manager for Year 8 delivered a parcel to a family that was self isolating and couldn’t therefore leave the house. There were tears on both sides when they made that delivery.
Community is a word that I think often gets misused but this really is a time where you have to step up and take care of all those that are around you.”
How much more is needed to help those in need?
“We’re quite lucky as a secondary school because we’ve got plenty of people who are willing to volunteer. As soon as the delivery arrives we have tables that are set up and instantly the food is unloaded.
We have so many people helping from our security guard to our receptionist and other members of staff. We even have some students who are from families of key workers, that help out during their breaks.
It’s about everyone coming together on every level so it’s really positive.”
What would you say to someone who is thinking of donating to the Food For London Now appeal?
“Whatever you can give, give it freely. From an educational perspective, children can’t learn if they’re hungry and families can’t be happy if they’re hungry in that respect.
It’s an important aspect that we support those families and those people who find themselves in less fortunate circumstances.
We cannot do the basics of social mobility and transforming young people’s lives from the inner cities if they are at home hungry, and not able to learn.
This is not just a lesson for the crisis that we find ourselves in now, but this is something that is for us to deal with on a normal social level in the future.”
The Standard’s appeal, in association with our sister newspaper The Independent, was set up to help The Felix Project provide for the delivery of food to the poor and elderly who are unable to afford supplies, or are stuck at home at risk of losing their lives.
Felix currently delivers the equivalent of 100,000 meals a day to giant community hubs run by local authorities as well as charities and schools across the capital.