Ian Lucas MP: We must tackle holiday hunger
In the second of our series focusing on the issue of holiday hunger, we spoke to Ian Lucas, MP for Wrexham, about his efforts to tackle the issue in his local constituency.
I became aware of the issue of "holiday hunger" in Wrexham in 2014, following a conversation with an experienced community worker.
I was told that, for many families on low incomes in my constituency, the school holidays were an extremely difficult time. Feeding hungry young children was a major challenge when the school gates were closed, and no free school meals were being served up.
At the time, the UK government appeared oblivious to the problem and there was no structure in place to help these families.
Thankfully, some hard-working volunteers in Wrexham decided to act and improve the situation locally – and I agreed to assist them. Initially, progress was slow but over the years Wrexham’s holiday hunger project has developed into a well-oiled machine which provides thousands of free meals to play schemes across the town.
The Church in Wales coordinate everything, with key assistance from volunteers from community groups, donations from local supermarkets and welcome backing from the Labour Welsh Government, who have rolled out their Holiday Hunger Playworks Pilot this summer.
The scheme developed from humble beginnings.
Back in 2014, I started by approaching breakfast cereal manufacturers Kelloggs, who have a factory in Wrexham, and asked if there was anything they could do to help. They provided some cereal bars and volunteers helped to distribute them.
From there, the project gathered pace and, within a couple of years, a clear approach to tackling the issue had emerged. Rather than set up different community schemes with food, we decided to provide food to existing holiday projects in Wrexham.
St Mark’s Church, on an estate called Caia Park just outside Wrexham town centre, is the hub where much of hard work takes place. It is where all the food is prepared, before being taken out to local school holiday play projects.
Recently, I volunteered at St Mark’s and joined others in preparing what is a simple but healthy lunch – a bread roll filled with ham, chicken or tuna, with lettuce, and an item of fruit.
I was happy to help – and am proud of the many volunteers who work so hard to keep the scheme running in Wrexham. However, I wish we were in a position – nationally and locally – where such projects were not required.
Quite simply, we did not need to do this when we had a Labour Government in Westminster. Children should not be going hungry during the school holidays and I will continue to highlight the issue in Westminster and press for more to be done.