On a mission to end food poverty in UK schools

Many families in the UK today face a daily struggle against food insecurity and hunger. It is estimated that four million children are being left without essential meals, despite the best efforts of schools, local authorities, and charities.

Nathan Atkinson and Kevin MacKay witnessed food poverty in schools during their teaching career. They founded the Leeds-based, non-for-profit organisation called Rethink Food and pledged to “remove hunger as a barrier to learning in schools”. The former teachers started working with local supermarkets, wholesalers and authorities to redistribute surplus food that would otherwise be wasted. Weekly 7-8 tonnes of surplus food reach more than one hundred Yorkshire schools providing breakfast to thousands of children as part of their education programme.

Nathan and Kevin joined a webinar hosted by the Biorenewables Development Centre and BioVale, to speak about one of their three initiatives: Rethink Food Futures. At the heart of this programme is a growing tower – a soil-free system for growing vegetables and fruits year-round. The company has partnered with large organisations and local businesses who sponsor local schools to take part in the growing programme. The tower is an inspirational, educational tool that teaches children about healthy diets, food production and waste in line with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. It is also designed to encourage children to eat more fresh produce (currently almost a third of children under 10 now eating less than one portion of vegetables a day). A three-tier sponsorship system offers access to educational materials, workshops and presence at showcasing events.

Nathan Atkinson, the co-founder of Rethink Food commented:

“Working to educate and empower people to live food secure lives is a huge task. Collaboration plays a vital role in supporting us to achieve our goal. Working with the team at the Biorenewables Development Centre and BioVale enabled us to connect with businesses and organisations from across the region and share our story with this new audience. Already, secondary conversations have taken place with attendees of the webinar with a view to enriching our offer and further improving outcomes for children, young people and their communities.”

Alice North, BioVale Project Manager said:

“Although COVID-19 meant that we were unable to hold the event in our Bioeconomy Outreach Centre, I really enjoyed the challenge of helping to design and deliver this webinar with Rethink Food as part of the ERDF-funded Bioeconomy Growth Programme. Rethink Food’s mission of ending hunger in schools is extremely important and their innovative hydroponic growing system, distribution of food that would otherwise go to waste and food education programme were a great fit with our work helping to develop the bioeconomy in the region, as well as with our outreach activities as part of the THYME project. “

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the company faced new food insecurity challenges. The Rethink Food surplus food redistribution programme increased to 25-30 tonnes per week during the lockdown. With support of £90,000 from DEFRA, the company has been able to deliver fresh fruit and veg to over 70 schools and 30 community groups with an additional 1.5 tonnes delivered directly to Leeds City Council.  This work continues to empower local communities to work towards living food secure lives.

Note to editor:

This project has received funding from the England European Regional Development Fund as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020

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