Friday, 21 July 2017

Researching holiday hunger

Guest post by the Healthy Living Lab team, Faculty of Health and Life Sciences, Northumbria University

“Summer is here and the living is easy ….” well for most people it might be. However, for many families on low incomes, school holidays are challenging times. Over the past few years, the Healthy Living Lab at Northumbria University has undertaken research into the holiday clubs providing support to these families. We have had the privilege of working with clubs right across the UK from Scotland to the South of England. We have visited clubs based within a range of settings including schools, food banks, church halls and community centres. Research by the Healthy Living Lab is providing a significant insight into the location of holiday clubs, and crucially identifying gaps in provision and the outcomes for families and children attending the clubs.

During the school term, free school meals (FSM) act as a safeguard for children from low income families, but there is no additional state provision for these children during the school holidays. The term ‘holiday hunger’ has been used to describe the hardship that children and families on low incomes face during the summer break; when they do not have access to a free school lunch. Moreover, the increase in financial pressures during the school holidays has a more general impact on the quality of children’s lives, as families lack money for entertainment, socialising and educational or developmental activities (Gill & Sharma, 2004; Graham et al., 2016; Kellogg’s, 2015).

School holiday clubs can help to bridge this gap by providing food, activities and support. Many holiday clubs are staffed by volunteers, who have given up their summer to make sure that something important happens; that children have access to nutritious meals when free school meals aren’t available. There is also a good chance there will be activities happening within holiday clubs, and that the children attending are having a great time.

Research from the Healthy Living Lab team ascertained a need for holiday club provision for families on low incomes (Defeyter, Graham, & Prince, 2015). We have spoken to parents and children at holiday clubs, many of whom live below or just above the poverty line. Our findings highlight that, for many low-income families, the school holidays are difficult, especially the longer summer break. A member of staff at one holiday club breakfast club indicated that it wasn’t just children who benefited from the the holiday breakfast club as well, saying:
“Main thing is for the kids, but I think it’s really benefitted the adults as well, so urm yeah just making sure every-one’s getting food, which is really important ‘cause breakfast, the most important meal of the day (Female staff member; Club 5) (Defeyter, Graham, & Prince, 2015, p.5)
Whilst parents strive to ensure that their children are fed, many find it more difficult to manage during school holidays, as food bills increase and thereby the risk of low-income families experiencing food insecurity also increases. Moreover, we have spoken to staff and volunteers from school holiday clubs, who have told us that their clubs provide food, in addition to social, learning and support opportunities (Graham et al., 2016). Our research shows that holiday clubs not only provide financial support to low income families, through the provision of a free meal, but also provide a social outlet for parents and their children, as well as wider benefits for the community (Defeyter, Graham, & Prince, 2015).

Researching this area is challenging as it involves talking to families about sensitive issues such as their food and financial situation. But, this work is also invaluable as it draws directly on the experiences of parents, children, and holiday club staff ensuring their voices are heard.

The Healthy Living Lab Team is:
  • Professor Greta Defeyter, Faculty Associate Pro Vice-Chancellor (Strategic Planning & Engagement), Faculty of Health and Life Sciences, and Director of Healthy Living
  • Dr Pamela Graham - Vice Chancellor's Research Fellow
  • Dr Louise Harvey-Golding - Senior Research Assistant
  • Emily Mann - PhD Researcher
  • Jackie Shinwell - PhD Researcher

  1. Gill, O., & Sharma, N. (2004). Food Poverty in the School Holidays. London.
  2. Graham, P. L., Crilley, E., Stretesky, P. B., Long, M. A., Palmer, K. J., Steinbock, E., & Defeyter, M. A. (2016). School Holiday Food Provision in the UK: A Qualitative Investigation of Needs, Benefits, and Potential for Development. Frontiers in Public Health, 4(April 2014), 1–8.
  3. Kellogg’s. (2015). Isolation and Hunger : the reality of the school holidays for struggling families. Manchester. Retrieved from
  4. Defeyter, M. A., Graham, P. L., & Prince, K. (2015). A Qualitative Evaluation of Holiday Breakfast Clubs in the UK: Views of Adult Attendees, Children, and Staff. Frontiers in Public Health, 3(August).

Photo courtesy of Children in Scotland:

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