In 2018, we introduced free soup and a roll at lunchtime for students so that no one went without food for the whole day. This followed feedback from staff and the Student Association that some students were passing out in afternoon classes through hunger because they couldn’t afford lunch! In recent months I received similar feedback about students in morning classes due to not having had breakfast.
The economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic has led to challenging times for students. Increasing numbers are struggling financially and students already experiencing poverty are finding it harder than ever before. Many have lost part-time jobs, some have partners who have been made redundant, and others are homeless.
We want to remove as many barriers to learning as possible so that our students can focus on achieving their qualification during the most challenging time they have ever had to face. I know that our free hot breakfast will be welcomed by students taking part in classes and workshops on campus. To avoid the stigma that often surrounds free meals, our existing soup offer and the new hot breakfast are available to all students. Students shouldn’t have to prove that they are hungry or that they can’t afford to pay for lunch.
One of the college’s strategic goals is to lead with vision and empathy. The way that our students and staff have supported people in communities across West Lothian throughout this pandemic is a great illustration of how that goal is being met.
On the last day of term our professional cookery students baked over a thousand mince pies that were included with Christmas meals delivered to families by The Larder, a social enterprise that provides hot meals to those in need. Our students also baked the contents for treat boxes delivered to local people through the Neil’s Hugs Foundation, the West Lothian Foodbank and Lanthorn Community Centre.
Our Student Association works with local charities and social enterprises in West Lothian to help students facing financial difficulties. In the lead up to Christmas they worked with The Larder and the West Lothian Financial Inclusion Network to provide hot meals to students and their families affected by poor mental health, poverty or Covid-19.
For students with children, who faced additional financial pressures over the festive period, the Student Association accessed help from River Kids and West Lothian Financial Inclusion Network so that no child went without Christmas presents. And, with the support of the West Lothian School Bank, students were able to get school clothes for the new term for their children.
Throughout the year, college support staff work with community partners like these to tap into resources that help students facing poverty and poor mental health. Outside of college our staff contribute in many ways to alleviate food poverty. Inspired by Marcus Rashford’s Feeding Britain’s Children campaign, one of our sports lecturers distributed more than 2,500 meals to families through his football academy in the weeks before Christmas. Our IT manager played a key role in the Food and Dignity Box project, a partnership between Blackburn United Football Club, Community Action Blackburn, Youth Action Project and the Blackburn Family Centre.
Food is essential fuel for the body and the mind. Students need that fuel to be successful learners and no-one should be at a disadvantage because they can’t afford to eat. That’s why we are using our own resources at West Lothian College, as well as those of public and third sector partners to provide food for thought for our students.
Jackie Galbraith, Principal and Chief Executive, West Lothian College