The Church of Scotland has praised the new children’s programme ‘Club 365’ being launched by North Lanarkshire Council.
Back in February, the council’s education committee agreed to provide nutritious food and a programme of activities on weekends and holidays for children who qualify for free school meals.
The decision was based on compelling evidence indicating that hunger outside of school times deeply affects children’s chances in life.
North Lanarkshire is one of the nine “challenge authorities” in Scotland with the highest levels of deprivation. Nearly 21 per cent of children live in low income households.
The Scottish Government has recognised the potential impact the programme could have in terms of attainment and has agreed, in principal, to support it through the Scottish Attainment Challenge initiative.
‘Club 365’, will cover the 175 days of the year when lunches are not served in school, effectively plugging the gap for school children.
Following the decision to launch, a pilot scheme was run in Coatbridge during the Easter holidays (including Good Friday and Easter Sunday) which focused on four distinct areas of the town.
The areas were chosen based on a mapping exercise showing where the highest percentage of eligible school children lived.
Each day between 11am-2pm, sessions were organised to feature a range of team sporting activities in a sports hall supervised by North Lanarkshire Leisure, as well as a free meal.
Derrick Hannan, The Church of Scotland’s representative on the council’s Education Committee, was invited to join a ‘panel of experts’ as part of the programme launch.
Mr Hannan said: “I was absolutely delighted to see Club 365 in action and observe the tremendous enjoyment experienced by the pupils.
“Parents commented on how the scheme had been a very welcome support in terms of providing a free activities programme as well as the free meal.
“They felt that the activities programme was vital as they simply could not afford such a set of activities otherwise.”
At the end of the Easter holidays, feedback from the children and their parents was extremely positive, whilst also recognising that more time was required to build upon the pilot’s success.
Modifications were noted in order for the scheme to work for secondary school pupils, but the overall outcome of the pilot was that it had been a very good start.
In the final evaluation, presented to the Education Committee last month, a roll out for the scheme to eventually cover the entire North Lanarkshire local authority area was agreed.
The next phase will see the programme being rolled out to Bellshill and Coatbridge later this month with the summer programme running from June 29-August 14.
Club 365 will be offered in nine hubs with each providing three hours of play and learning activities to eligible children.