CHILDREN and young people in Leicester who receive benefit-related free school meals are being invited to sign up now for a free programme of activities over the Christmas holidays.
Starting on Saturday 18 December, the sessions will include activities such as art, sport, ice-skating and music – and each child taking part will receive a healthy meal as part of the session.
Most provision will run for four days, but children on programmes offering fewer than four days of activities will be given a food hamper to take home with them.
Funding for the scheme has come from the government’s Holiday Activities and Food Programme (HAF), which wants to help children from low-income families be active and eat well over the Christmas break.
In Leicester, the activities – suitable for children aged from 4 to 16 – are being organised by around 40 providers at sites around the city.
Places, however, are limited and will be allocated on a first come, first served basis to eligible families. The booking system will close on Friday 3 December, but places should be booked as soon as possible.
Deputy city mayor Cllr Sarah Russell said: “This year, the government allocated £1.6m to Leicester to provide food and activities for children on free school meals during the Easter, summer and Christmas holidays.
“With many families finding it tough right now, any scheme that helps the household budget go a little bit further is to be welcomed.
“There’s a wide range of activities on offer at sites around the city during December, but places are limited so please register now, if you’d like your child to take part in the programme.”
Children whose chosen activity programme runs for less than four days will be given a food hamper to take home with them. The hamper is being put together by Leicester-based Samworth Brothers, who teamed up with the city council on its half-term food scheme back in May and is now supporting the holiday food scheme once again.
Adam King, Samworth Brothers’ Group Community Director, said: “We are proud to have another opportunity to work alongside the council to improve the lives of families within the local community in any way we can, especially at Christmas which we know can bring its own extra challenges.”
Information about the Holiday Activities & Food programme has been circulated to eligible families via schools.
Families with children on benefit-related free school meals can register for a place on the Holiday Activities & Food programme at families.leicester.gov.uk/haf
The holiday programme runs from 18-23 December and from 27-31 December.
In its autumn budget, the government announced that funding for the HAF programme would continue for the next three years.
Cllr Sarah Russell said: “Almost 14,000 children and young people are eligible for free school meals in Leicester, so we welcome the news that government funding will be available to support them during the longer school holidays until at least 2024.
“Knowing that the funding is in place for the next three years will allow us to build on the work that we’ve done so far, and help even more children and young people to have a better start in life.”
Additional winter help for those on low incomes is available via the new Household Support Fund.
Leicester City Council has been given £3.4million from the Department for Work & Pensions to help vulnerable people and families buy food and pay energy bills this winter.
For more information, and to apply online, go to www.leicester.gov.uk/householdsupportfund