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£1m scheme to help ensure 18,460 children do not go hungry this winter

Thousands of schoolchildren, vulnerable families, homeless people, and voluntary and community groups are to benefit from a £1m scheme to support residents over the winter months.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council has secured £1.083m from the government’s new Covid-19 winter grant fund to help families and residents hit hardest by the pandemic.

The authority will set aside the majority of the money to help ensure that 18,460 children do not go hungry during the winter. This will be administered through a holiday-hunger scheme to support families around school holidays for those in receipt of benefits-related free school meals. 

Over the Christmas and February holidays, £15 per week, per child in food vouchers will be provided through schools for each holiday week and an additional £5 payment per child for Christmas Day. The council is working in partnership with schools so that all those who may be suffering hardship can benefit from the scheme. 

The authority will also be making equivalent payments to those families with children in early years settings who are most at risk of economic hardship and with very young children or other children not in formal childcare. The scheme will also be extended to support care leavers at risk of hardship.

The funding will include:

  • £825,150 to help 18,460 schoolchildren with free school meals during the Christmas period and February half-term. Families will be issued vouchers via email or text that can be used at Aldi, Asda, Iceland, McColl’s, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose. The vouchers will be for children in receipt of free school meals; children with funded pre-school places; children with education, health and care plans (EHCP); children not on a school roll who would normally receive free school meals or additional support through an EHCP); and care leavers.
  • £58,344 for local charity Beat the Cold to provide 1,000 fuel vouchers to vulnerable households affected by fuel poverty.
  • £57,960 to help around 45 homeless people living in hotels with £14-worth of food a day for three months.
  • £50,000 to extend a hugely popular community fund to help voluntary and community groups continue to deliver vital support to residents during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • £23,908 for the Hubb Pot Project by local charity the Hubb Foundation. The money will provide up to 150 families with a slow cooker and ingredients for one meal a day for 12 weeks. A series of recipe cards will also be provided, with the aim that families are able to continue to benefit independently when the support ends.
  • £15,000 to help around 50 homeless people in hostel accommodation for 12 weeks. The funding will help with payments for food, fuel, wi-fi, TV, water rates and sewerage.

Council leader Abi Brown said: “This funding is a wonderful Christmas present to thousands of families and residents. We are already working quickly so that people can feel the benefit of this support as soon as possible.

“The funding has been targeted to help people most in need, and we’re thrilled to be able to make it available to residents in Stoke-on-Trent.

“Children and young people are our priority, and this money will ensure that thousands of children can benefit from healthy and filling free meals during holiday periods. The funding will also prioritise vulnerable adults, and we want to ensure that people do not suffer over the cold winter months ahead. It is a great boost for families, and the initiative further strengthens our support for vulnerable homeless people.”

The funding will help the Hubb Pot Project continue its work in supporting families across the city. The Hubb Foundation founder and trustee Carol Shanahan said: “We are delighted that the council has supported this project. We have been so successful during the lockdown and our recipe cards are proving a great hit, with families taking part being really creative in using the ingredients and developing their cooking skills. Families have been sending us photos of their meals and the children have loved it, it has been so good to see. The funding means we can go out to support more families.”

The funding to local charity ‘Beat the Cold’ will help to ensure that 1,000 families most in need receive fuel vouchers and support to help them with utility providers to reduce their bills or even arrange a fresh-start. Local water supplier Severn Trent also has its ‘big difference’ scheme providing priority services, application of a social tariff offering a reduction in bills, capping bills for families with three or more children and/or supporting someone with a disability requiring additional water usage. 

A total of £50,000 from the initiative will be used to extend a community fund which is helping scores of local groups and charities continue to identify and support residents who are struggling through the winter with a broad range of help. The first phase of the community fund saw around £100,000 issued to 65 voluntary and community groups earlier this year. The latest phase of the scheme, which focuses on helping groups that provide mental health support, tackle loneliness and isolation, and prevent domestic abuse, closes for applications tomorrow (Friday). It has already received applications from 26 groups. More information can be found at www.stoke.gov.uk/voluntaryfund.

The winter grant fund allocation is part of a £170m programme by the Department for Work and Pensions. The funding follows a total of £1.9m invested by the council in providing accommodation for homeless people and £220,000 in providing food for people affected by the coronavirus in the city since the start of the pandemic to 31 October. A further £401,500 has been administered by the council since then in the form of a grant from government department DEFRA and used to support vulnerable people through the council’s #StokeonTrentTogether campaign with voluntary sector partner VAST, support homeless people with food, supply food to food banks and other food stocks, support the work of the Hubb Foundation and for community grants.

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