Pupils and carers at St Wilfrid’s Catholic Primary in Blyth are developing a taste for kitchen knowledge after the school began running after hours cookery sessions for children and adults alike.
The initiative addresses the issues of food poverty and the cost of living crisis, whilst also offering an innovative learning activity for pupils– and the early signs are that it is proving to be a big hit.
St Wilfrid’s is part of the Bishop Bewick Catholic Education Trust, which runs 39 schools across the diocese of Hexham and Newcastle, and provided the initial funding for the project, which could soon be rolled out across other schools in the Trust.
“We were aware that more families were accessing local food banks and our own school food bank as the cost of living rose, and we could see many families were not confident about making healthy meals cooked from scratch on a budget,” said head teacher Pauline Johnstone.
“We were also keen to promote non-screen afternoon activities after there having been so much computer-based learning during lockdown, and cooking was one of the activities we suggested which received the most positive reaction.”
The Trust provided funding for cooking equipment, with its chef, Lee Robson, sourcing ingredients from his suppliers, and the sessions are carried out in a multipurpose room that is used for art and music during regular school hours.
All eight spaces available were soon snapped up and the only absences so far have been because of child illness, because those who have attended are enjoying the sessions so much.
“This isn’t just about food, it’s about family bonding too,” said Mrs Johnstone. “Younger siblings and some grandparents also attend and, in some cases, parents re-arranged other commitments or got other family members to attend with the children.”
Attendees are given recipe sheets to take away, so they can cook at home, and Mrs Johnstone said the feedback had been hugely positive, with some parents offering to help run future sessions.
“The cost of living has always been an issue for a significant proportion of our families,” she continued. “A few years ago, we carried out a Poverty Proofing Audit with Children North East to find out the actual cost to parents of sending their children to our school, which has informed our policies on things like trips, uniform, dress up days and fundraisers.
“Healthy diet is essential to mood and school performance. We were part of the National Breakfast Programme where cereal and bagels were provided to all children through our classroom breakfast scheme.
“We now work with Magic Breakfast to supply a bagel to every child in school every day and as a result of this subsidised scheme we have been able to cut the cost of breakfast club, only charging for the childcare element.”
Other schools in the Trust could also be benefitting from the groundbreaking work done at St Wilfrid’s.
“Trust chief executive Anita Bath helped get us started in the first place, and she’s very much treating this as a pilot scheme not just for our school, but for the Trust as a whole,” said Mrs Johnstone.
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