Lunchbox Library started in 2016 as a way to contribute to efforts to help reduce holiday hunger, which can result in both isolation and learning loss. The programme, run by Together Southwark, offers a combination of a warm lunch meal and a dessert, fun activities and reading for fun with the children. The latter helps prevent the trend for children’s reading skills to dip over the school holidays.

In 2015, the London Poverty Profile showed that the number of ‘working poor’ has increased 70% over the last ten years to 1.2 million people. After the announcement of the lockdown in March 2020, Together Southwark’s planning changed from holiday catering partners meeting in the community, to a combination of weekly Zoom meetings, intensive phone conversations and supporting teams on the ground for a successful provision in these unprecedented times.

In one of the Lunchbox Library projects all the children supported in the year 2020 lived in hostels. Their families were further moved to self-contained temporary accommodation in other boroughs during the pandemic. That meant that some of the families travelled from as far as Croydon to receive the food and activity packs provided by the project, which had been supporting them in Lambeth.

The feedback from churches and community partners was overwhelmingly positive: “Parents have expressed how grateful they were for the opportunity to be gifted books. One mentioned that their eldest reading levels went up from 3 before lockdown to 8 once school re-started, and they got a lot of praises from the school” reported one Lunchbox Library host.

487 children and young people in total were supported in our seven projects which offered a total of 12,105 lunch meals (excluding seconds). Families received breakfast hampers as well, these were distributed every two weeks by an external charity; 1,098 hampers in total.

Another project host added: “A parent with three children, aged between 10 and 11 said that they must keep looking for new things to keep them occupied, leaving the parent very little time to rest. They told us this was the first time they could have time for themselves because the children always had something to do from the activity packs.”