Norfolk businesses dig deep and back Rashford’s campaign as anger grows over free meals
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Businesses are taking matters into their own hands after England footballer Marcus Rashford’s bid to extend free school meals to children during half term was rejected by MPs.
The 22-year-old footballer’s campaign to lift Britain’s poorest children out of poverty has already forced one government u-turn this year and seen him awarded an MBE.
But anger is growing after Conservative MPs voted not to back an opposition motion to extend free meals during autumn half-term – and now Norfolk’s charities, pubs and other businesses have stepped up.
Former headteacher Andrew Livingstone, who now runs the Duke’s Head in Hall Quay, Great Yarmouth, has pledged to supply 40 packed lunches each day of half term for children who would normal get free meals at school. He is working with nurseries and charities like the Tribal Trust to signpost the children that might need it most. Has even had calls from Tesco and other local supermarkets who say they can help out with ingredients.
“You ate out to help out, it’s now our turn to help out,” he said. “Politicians are not putting their constituents first, we in the hospitality industry are suffering but I am prepared to put resources into helping our community who need it.
“It’s so upsetting to think that children will be going hungry. We have a moral obligation to protect them as a society.
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“Great Yarmouth has some of the most deprived wards in the country, and you can see it everywhere you go.
“The fact that our MP, Brandon Lewis, has decided to vote in his own interests rather than for the people he represents is disappointing. I’m hoping they do a U-turn, the same way they did last time, but for now we’re just helping in any way we can.
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“The response we’ve had online has been amazing - there’s been hundreds of shares on the post. It just shows how many people need support at this time.”
In Norfolk and Waveney, Conservative MPs Peter Aldous, Richard Bacon, Duncan Baker, Therese Coffey, George Freeman, Brandon Lewis, Jerome Mayhew, Chloe Smith, and James Wild voted against offering free school meals.
South West Norfolk Tory MP Elizabeth Truss did not vote and Norwich South Labour MP Clive Lewis backed the motion.
Brian Green, branch secretary of the Unite community at the Phoenix Centre in Norwich, said the organisation would be dishing out 200 free packed lunches every day of the half-term break.
“If we don’t help out the children go hungry,” he said. “By the time this is all over we will be back to the 1950s when rationing had stopped, and you know where the government axe will fall.”
Eight volunteers who run the Phoenix Centre, in Mile Cross Road, are on standby throughout half term handing out lunches as well as offering 150 food hampers for families every week.
And Mr Green predicts the poverty levels to climb in the coming weeks with more parents out of work because of the Covid-hit economy.
“In the last two weeks of the summer holidays, when the council vouchers were being used up, we were run off our feet and overspent our budget by £1,500,” he added. “Children were desperate, people were crying, these are parents who have been made redundant because of Covid.
“A headteacher of a local school said there were parents in each class who had been made redundant over the summer holidays. We have people coming to us, saying they don’t think they deserve to get stuff, that is the biggest problem– pride. We had a woman come in saying she was in debt and it was her child’s birthday and she couldn’t afford to buy anything, we gave her a few Tesco cakes and she just sat and howled.”
And more businesses are also determined to do their bit. Breakers Cafe in Cromer has recently launched a ‘pay with a post-it’ scheme, which asks customers to buy a drink for a stranger and pin a note to a board for those who cannot afford a drink. It has now received a donation of £50 for children’s meals.
Other pubs also offering free packed lunches include the Red Lion in Dereham, and the Baytree House boutique hotel, in Lowestoft.
Gail Taylor, from Peggoty’s Bar, in Great Yarmouth, has vowed to provide free eat-in meals for children all week next week. Children under 16 will have to be accompanied by an adult but the adult won’t have to pay to get the food. The child can choose anything on the menu.
“This isn’t about politics at all, and it’s not about whether you support the government’s policy decision,” she said. “For us, this is an opportunity to help our community and give back to them over half term.
“We want to work with the other businesses in the area offering similar deals. There’s no reason why a parent can’t pick up a packed lunch for their child at one venue and then come to us on an evening for a hot meal. We’d love to see that happen.
“We don’t care which colour you voted for - we just want to make things easier for the people living near Great Yarmouth town centre.”
In the wake of the vote, Rashford said: “Put aside all the noise, the digs, the party politics and let’s focus on the reality.
“A significant number of children are going to bed tonight not only hungry but feeling like they do not matter because of comments that have been made today.”
If you want to pledge help you can contact the Phoenix Centre, Norwich on 01603 403814.
If you are an organisation offering free school lunches over half term in Norfolk and Waveney, please email email@example.com or tweet @edpbusiness