Going for Gold Food Champion – The Vench: where food fuels play

Amy Walsh leads Youth & Play at The Vench, an adventure playground and community centre in Lockleaze, to support young people in Lockleaze to be healthy and happy. The Vench recently became a Going for Gold Food Champion, and Amy explains why food is so important to their work, and how you can help, in the blog post below.

Going for Gold Food Champions are those that have logged action on all six food issues that Bristol is working on in its bid to be a Gold Sustainable Food City.

The Vench is a much-loved adventure playground and community centre on the edge of Stoke Park in Lockleaze, managed by Groundwork South. We believe it’s a child’s right to have a safe and vibrant place to play, learn and grow. We deliver a range of activities to build resilience and confidence in the young people and families that we support.

“The Holiday Lunch Clubs have helped my daughter improve her social skills.”

Food plays a vital role in what we do at The Vench as it enables children to fully engage with our activities (it’s hard to have fun and make friends on an empty tummy!). Food brings children and families together to build friendships and develop attributes such as empathy, teamwork and self-esteem.

Lockleaze is a disadvantaged area in North Bristol where families are increasingly struggling with food poverty. In 2019, North Bristol Food Bank has seen a 38% increase in service users and 1 in 4 children in the area qualify for free school meals [1]. Childhood malnutrition is a significant problem with 40% of 10-11 year olds registering overweight or very overweight [2].

“My daughter has tried food she never used to like to eat or taste. I have learnt to make foods I have not tried before.”

Our Holiday Lunch Clubs support local families to access a safe place to play and a healthy hot meal during the school holidays. Maxine, our Community Chef leads our volunteer team to cook healthy hot meals for 50-70 children each day. We run cooking activities which help our families learn new recipes and encourage the children to try new foods whilst building their confidence and social skills.

We have recently extended our support for families by launching an after school Supper & Play session twice a week during term-time, ensuring children have a safe place to play outdoors during the dark winter evenings. We have begun renovating our kitchen garden with the help of parent volunteers; this will facilitate sharing of ideas and skills to help families grow their own food at home and in public spaces in the community. We use the harvests for shared meals at our Holiday Lunch Clubs and Supper & Play sessions.

The children recently harvested their first turnips and salads which we used to cook a vegetable curry during October half-term.

In October, we partnered with Family Action and Fareshare to launch Lockleaze FOODclub. This is based upon a co-operative model where we receive a Fareshare delivery of surplus supermarket food each week. Volunteers sort the food and local families collect a share for £3.50 (we estimate a share would be worth £12-15 in the supermarket). This enables parents to access affordable healthy food to feed their families whilst diverting surplus food from landfill. Currently 61 families are members of the FOODclub and together we have diverted 1 tonne of surplus food from landfill in 8 weeks.

What’s next?

We have grand plans to transform our support for families struggling with food poverty from ‘reactive meal providers’ to ‘proactive capacity builders’. We have worked with our volunteers and families to develop plans for a Grow Cook Eat project which will facilitate behavioural change and skills development around food growing, healthy eating and food waste in Lockleaze. We want to build the food resilience of our families to foster a healthier and happier community in Lockleaze.

How can you help?

We are seeking funding and volunteers to help us reach more families in Lockleaze and the surrounding areas. You or your organisation can support more children to access healthy hot meals by sponsoring meals for children or by giving volunteering in our kitchen cooking meals for children at our play sessions. Please email Amy for more information.

References

[1] Bristol City Council, Lockleaze: Statistical Ward Profile, Bristol: Insight, Performance and Intelligence Service, 2019.
[2] Lockleaze Neighbourhood Trust, Our Lockleaze: Community Plan 2019-2024, Bristol, 2019.

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