(c) Govan Youth Information Project

From feeding children to facing climate change

“Around 11% of people experienced food insecurity at least once in the previous year,” reads the Glasgow City Food Plan. Food insecurity has a significantly negative effect on children and their development. Studies have shown it affects children’s academic performance, health, and social skills. A reason to make eliminating food poverty one of the pillars of Glasgow’s Food Plan.

Free food and play

During the academic year, many children across Glasgow rely on free school meals for a regular, nutritious, and balanced diet. But when the holidays come, many low-income families can’t afford to put the extra budget in the shopping cart. So, Glasgow’s City Council launched in the summer of 2018 the Glasgow Children’s Holiday Food Programme.

“We were conscious that we couldn’t implement this programme on our own,” confides Councillor Richard Bell, Depute Leader of the Council, City Treasurer and Convener for Financial Inclusion. The city leans on organisations based in the community to reach out to young people in need. In practice, the programme allows community and third sector organisations to apply for funding to offer meals and activities addressing young people aged 0 to 18 during school holidays.

“The strength of our operation is that we work with community-based organisations that are better placed than the Council to decide what activities are suitable and relevant to young people,” adds Councillor Bell. “In my district, for example, they build their holiday programme around what the young people ask for.”

The strength of our operation is that we work with community-based organisations
— Councillor Richard Bell

From trips to the seaside to sports competitions, there’s no limit to the kind of activities the programme offers in combination with the free meals. And the activities are essential to avoid stigmatisation. “We wanted to create a universal programme with no eligibility criteria. If a young person was coming to an activity sponsored by the programme, they could take their pals with them.”

(c) Govan YIP
Food Van (c) PEEK (Possibilities for Each and Every Kid)
(c) Govan YIP
(c) FARE Scotland
(c) Govan YIP
(c) Shettleston Community Growing Project

Healthy food

Children cooking

No matter the activity, the crucial ingredient of the programme is offering a nutritious and well-balanced diet. Most food is homemade or prepared by community chefs. “We are also teaching young people about the nutritional benefits of some food they’ve been offered. Why are they being offered that food rather than a sausage roll?” Says Councillor Bell.

Young people gladly engage with ingredients they have never experienced before, and the programme also makes a point of integrating cultural diversity into the meals they offer. “What’s powerful for us is widening young people’s knowledge about food so that, as they grow up, they can put it to use when they have their own families.”

Sustainable choices

Another concern of the programme is inviting organisations to make sustainable choices when applying. For example, they are encouraged to consider minimising single-use plastics, use locally sourced food and ingredients, use food surplus organisations, and inspire children to engage with environmental issues.

Children participate in the community garden

“We encourage the organisations applying for the Children’s Holiday Food programme to be involved in some of the food growing strategies in Glasgow and to get ingredients from local suppliers,” says Councillor Bell.

As 30% of greenhouse gas emissions come from food systems, developing a sustainable food plan has been another priority for Glasgow’s strategy. For example, a long-term goal is to increase the proportion of organic food in production locally. To date, Glasgow has four market gardens, 90 community gardens, and 32 allotment sites where people can grow their food. This is enhanced by the Let’s Grow Together Fund aimed at supporting communities to access, enjoy and celebrate growing spaces within Glasgow.

In the future, another 1,300 hectares in 925 sites that are vacant could be used for more green spaces and community gardens in particular. “The more food we can grow locally in Glasgow, the more that reduces the emissions in terms of food miles and in terms of having to move food either around the country or even from other countries,” says Councillor Bell.

Organic and local production generates fewer emissions per land area – and for some products like beef and lamb per kg of food. It’s also better for biodiversity and can lock up more carbon in the soil. “In Glasgow, we have drastically reduced our carbon emissions by 50% since 2006,” adds Councillor Bell. “We are very keen on the policies of the Council that can contribute to that.”

Rooted in the community

Councillor Bell and the local youth project (c) Govan YIP

Glasgow’s Food Policy Plan was developed in collaboration with the community. It started with a summit in the spring of 2019 to discuss how to improve the city’s food system and its impact on residents’ health. Over 600 people and organisations from across Glasgow have been involved in shaping and developing it.

“We went to local communities. We took evidence. We understood what the barriers were,” stresses Councillor Bell. While celebrating the existing good work, the summit also provided opportunities to share experiences, discuss and make the most of local and international expertise.

Inspired by speakers like the Chair of the Eurocities Working Group Food and coordinator of the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact, of which Glasgow is a signatory, the event became the starting point for developing the city Food Plan.

The European effect

Collaboration with European partners has also been crucial in writing the Declaration on Food and Climate, highlighting food systems as a priority for cities. The Declaration was formed in response to the lack of concern by nations at COP 26.

“The Declaration is a commitment to improve local food systems and fight climate change,” says Joe Brady, Policy Officer at Glasgow City Council. It highlights connections between developing local food strategies and fighting climate change. A link that continues to be crucial for Glasgow as they have become one of the successful 100 Climate Neutral Cities.

Glasgow has just announced its plans for October 2022 and Spring 2023: investing another £742,524 (€850,500) in the Glasgow Children’s Holiday Food and Activity Programme.

Wilma Dragonetti Eurocities Writer