Student Spotlight: Transforming school meals

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Meet Caroline, Chief Executive of Local Food Links

Caroline is a student on Lloyds Bank Social Entrepreneurs Programme 2013/14

What do we do?

Local Food Links (LFL) is a social enterprise which provides great quality hot lunches to schoolchildren in Dorset.  Dorset was one of 3 counties in the country to get rid of school meals completely for more than 20 years. This legacy means that the culture of schoolchildren having a hot meal at lunchtime has been eroded and we have had to work very hard to convince children, parents, staff and head teachers that a nutritious and delicious meal will be good for children and help their learning.

LFL prepares every meal from scratch, using locally sourced ingredients wherever possible.  We have designed our own online ordering system to allow parents to order directly and to lessen the workload of school offices.  We work in partnership with our 29 schools – we listen, we engage and we care. LFL provides a healthy and delicious meal for children, some of whom may not have access to any other food in 24 hours.  We work with clusters of schools and would never exclude a school because it is too small to be profitable to work with.  This ethos means that all children can access good food and schools can focus on learning with children who are better able to concentrate.

School meals are not known for their gross profit margins and we have always found it difficult to make ends meet.  For the first six out of our seven years, grant funding enabled the organisation to survive.  However, a lifeline has now been offered in the shape of universal free school meals for all 5 – 7 year olds from September 2014.  Higher take up will enable us to cover our costs and ensure our viability in the long term.

Why school meals?

I have always been a foodie.  In my previous job, 7 years ago, I ran cookery courses in deprived areas of Dorset and encouraged families to cook from fresh on a budget.  I went into schools and encouraged children to enjoy healthy snacks and food.  At the same time, I was a parent governor at my own children’s school and loved going in with food to support the children’s learning; food from Ancient Greece and India were two of my favourites! A job at LFL seemed to make perfect sense and combine everything I enjoy doing.

Jamie Oliver, Jeanette Orrey, John Vincent and Henry Dimbleby are all high profile names connected with school food.  I am grateful to all the well-known people who have worked hard to transform the image of school food in this country.  Mention “school meals” to an older person and prepare to listen to them recounting horror stories of spam fritters, stodgy pies and puddings and lumpy custard.  So much has changed for the better and the more people that are talking about this, the better.  Thank you Jamie (and friends) for telling others what we already know – that school food is fantastic!

Next steps

The Scale Up course is actually my third course at the SSE.  I am something of an addict having experienced the Trading for Sustainability and Leadership Development courses and thoroughly enjoyed them.  I am hoping that I will be inspired by the other students on my course as well as the expert witnesses.  I find the courses give me the confidence to believe I can make a difference and lead our team through a challenging period of expansion and change.

My hope for the future of LFL is a continuation of our reputation for excellent food and service and financial viability.  We face an uphill task planning to more than double the size of our organisation in 8 months but the LFL team is up for the challenge!

                                                                                                                     

This post is by Caroline Morgan, Chief Executive at Local Food Links.

Follow Caroline on twitter @foodiedorset88

Visit LFL website to find out more.

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