Local vegan businesses unite to provide free school meals during half-term

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Plant-based music venue The Sound Lounge is among many local vegan businesses offering free school meals during half-term.

“We do not believe that any child should be going hungry. We do not believe in a deliberate policy of hunger that targets our most vulnerable.” Plant-based music venue The Sound Lounge posted that on Instagram early this week.

As it prepares to relaunch its “grassroots music venue and community hub” in Sutton, The Sound Lounge, along with No Bones — a vegan kitchen currently based at The Prince Albert pub in Hastings — and a number of vegan cafes, bars and restaurants, joins food establishments across England offering free school lunches during half-term.

In a Facebook post, No Bones wrote: “We try not to get too political over here at No Bones HQ but there’s some things we just can’t look past. When we started we said we’d stick to our morals and ethics and strive to make the world a better and ultimately happier place to live through our food and reach.”

In 2017, The Sound Lounge occupied a formerly derelict space in the heart of Tooting. Supported by a crowdfunding initiative, it established an “inclusive music and arts centre”, building a successful reputation “dedicated to Americana, blues, folk and roots performances” with Time Out declaring it “good news for London’s live music scene… and hope for London’s music fans.” 

The venue hosted over 250 acts during its first year, but closed in 2018. Owners, singer-songwriter Hannah White and musician Keiron Marshall, then set about looking for a new permanent venue to reestablish the business. Once more, music fans have come to their aid and they have recently secured funding from another crowdfunding campaign.

It says on its website: “In the daytime, the new The Sound Lounge will offer a café, bar and plant-based kitchen, while the venue will, like its predecessor… will be located in the centre of Sutton as part of a planned redevelopment of the lower high street by Sutton Council.”

It adds: “The café will also run workshops for families and young people and training for some of London’s most vulnerable.” The Sound Lounge joins many businesses in condemning the government’s recent decision not to extend the free school meals scheme this week and over the upcoming Christmas break.

As reported in The Independent, “the government in England has rejected calls to extend a voucher scheme for children to receive free school meals over the half-term and winter holidays. Earlier this year, the government agreed to extend the scheme over the summer holidays following pressure from footballer Marcus Rashford.”

The report adds that over 1.4 million children experience food insecurity during the holidays, while 6.3% of children are worried about going hungry during half-term. It was a “Labour motion, which was defeated by a majority of 61, (which) would have extended provision of hot food for children until Easter 2021.”

The government has argued that it provided £63m worth of funds to councils “for families facing financial difficulties due to pandemic restrictions, as well as increasing welfare support by £9.3bn”.

But clearly, it was not enough; similar schemes in Wales and Scotland will continue through to Easter 2021. As soon as the English government ended the scheme, Rashford relaunched his campaign and his petition has quickly gained more than 900,000 signatures, with councils, companies, charities, and hundreds of restaurants and cafes stepping forward to provide free meals this week for the most vulnerable.

The move has also prompted some pubs and restaurants to ban Tory MPs from their establishments, including eco-friendly cat-themed bar Whiskers and vegan coffee shop Coffee on the Corner in Newquay, Cornwall.

In response to all those who have stepped forward, Rashford tweeted: “Blown away by news of local businesses stepping up to fill the voucher scheme deficit during the October half term. Selflessness, kindness, togetherness, this is the England I know. Add #ENDCHILDFOODPOVERTY to your tweets so I can track them. I will share as many as I can.”

A Kids Meals map has been created to help people around the UK find which businesses are supporting the campaign in their local area.

Jessica Fox
Jessica Fox
Jessica has been vegan for nearly 20 years; over the past 8 years, she has been actively involved in the London vegan community, organising and hosting a variety of vegan events.She also regularly hosts walks, potlucks, and art/creative writing workshops. Jessica is an artist, writer, and genealogist; she loves photography, swimming, and walking in the countryside and seaside.