A small community cafe in Sea Mills has stepped in to provide free packed lunches to local children during the October half-term, who would have been eligible for a free lunch at school.
Over the eight years that the Cafe on the Square has been open, manager Heidi Simpson has watched the children in the area grow up. On school days, the area reverberates with the sound of children playing in the playground opposite. After school, parents often stop for a coffee and a catch up, and let their children play. “We are their community cafe, and we look after each other,” Heidi says.
The government is still refusing to extend provision for children normally entitled to free school meals to cover the holidays, and is pushing the responsibility onto local authorities. Businesses like the Cafe on the Square are filling the gap, “Kids shouldn’t be going hungry in today’s world but particularly whilst living through a pandemic. Life is tough enough for them,” Heidi says.
She knows from personal experience how important school meals are: “My twin brother and I relied on free school meal vouchers when we were growing up. During school holidays we’d often have a couple of cream crackers for lunch and our mum often went without dinner to make sure there was enough for us to eat.”
Due to social distancing, the cafe, which is partly staffed by volunteers, is currently serving its very reasonably priced food and drinks from the back door and customers are seated outside. Anyone local to Sea Mills whose child is eligible for free school meals can come along and ask for a free packed lunch to take away.
The community has pitched in, with a bucket for cash donations at the cafe, and there have been numerous offers of help with financial contributions and donated food. The lunches have been a team effort, not possible without the support of the community, and the cafe’s board members and trustees.
One local who gave money, but wished to remain anonymous, said: “I benefited myself from free school meals when I was a child and it made a huge amount of difference to me. Families end up needing free school meals for all sorts of reasons and no child should have to worry about getting food.
“I think it’s brilliant that children will be able to go along to the cafe and get their lunch.”
Mary Milton is reporting on Sea Mills as part of Bristol24/7’s community reporter scheme, a pilot project which aims to tell stories from areas of Bristol traditionally under-served by the mainstream media
Main photo by Mary Milton