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5 Jul 2022 | 11:11

Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in early 2020, official Government statistics show the number of children in England who are eligible for free school meals has increased by more than 400,000 to 1.74million. With the subsequent cost-of-living crisis expected to see poverty and associated inequalities increase even further, we spoke to StreetGames director Jane Shewring about the ‘HAF Active’ group of sport and physical activity organisations that has been supporting the roll-out of the Government’s much-needed Holiday Activity and Food programme. 

Hi Jane, thanks for speaking to us. Can you tell us about the HAF programme? 

The HAF programme, funded by the Department for Education, provides a school-food standard lunch for children on free school meals during holiday times, alongside 60 minutes each day of physical activity, as per the Chief Medical Officer’s guidelines. It started in 2018, and was piloted for two years, before really escalating in 2021, partly because of Marcus Rashford’s campaign but also because of the pandemic. The Government invested £220million into the programme devolved to local authorities across the country. It runs for six weeks of the year during the main school holidays and is for children aged five to 16 in receipt of benefit related free school meals. 

HAF addresses some of the inequalities that are faced by children and young people in our under-served communities during holidays, for example around inactivity and the lack of access to activities. Families supported by HAF on average have around £3.21 per week for the whole family to spend on additional activities, so accessing anything during the holidays is way out of their means. It also gives them an opportunity to engage in some extra-curricular activities to support their educational attainment and reduces social isolation for young people who are unable to attend holiday programmes. They meet other young people, spend time with their friends, be active and be fed, which is increasingly more important for families who, ultimately, often have someone who is skipping a meal in order for other family members to be able to eat. 

Who is involved in HAF Active, and what are they contributing? 

HAF Active is a sport and physical activity sector-specific group including Active Partnerships, Association for Physical Education, Sport England, Activity Alliance, StreetGames, uk active, UK Coaching, Youth Sport Trust and the Sport for Development Coalition. There is an  open invitation for any sector partner to become part of the group, with a  focus on the sport and physical activity element of HAF and how, as a sector, we can support the quality of it and ongoing delivery. It’s the only Government programme where 60 minutes a day of physical activity is mandated, so it’s a great step forward for the sector. Furthermore in terms of Government and Sport England agendas around tackling inequalities, it is the first time that a mass programme has specifically targeted children and young people in under-served communities.  

The partners bring together skills and experience, and the resources they have developed for other programmes and interventions which can be adapted for HAF, plus training expertise to help support the workforce development.

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Why have HAF Active partners been focusing on creating guidance and support around standards and workforce? 

If you consider the food element of HAF, we know it needs to be school standard so it’s great to have that benchmark. But while it’s good to know we need the mandatory 60 minutes of physical activity per day, what that physical activity actually looks like has not been mandated so far. We are focusing on how  we can ensure delivery is high quality and to enable that, partners are coming together to support workforce development. We fully understand the workforce may not necessarily be from a sport or physical activity-related background; they might be part of community organisations where sport and physical activity is simply an extra offer for them, but they are really important as they have the trusted relationships with children and young people in local communities.  But we want to help upskill the  workforce so the opportunities for these children and young people are the best they can be, and make sure the children continue to take part in sport and physical activity. 

It’s about engaging with the different sector partners to consider what the delivery of sport and physical activity looks like in these communities year-round. We know young people are not always able to access the current sport offer, so we want to work with governing bodies of sport and other sector partners to look at how we get the right offer. Some of it will be about changing the way we deliver sport across the country, to make sure we meet the needs of children and young people – so looking at the locality, is it at the right time, are they the right people delivering it? We need to make sure it links in effectively to other year-round offers. So, for example StreetGames might focus on how it links to Doorstep Sport; Youth Sport Trust might look at curriculum time delivery within schools; and there’s the programme to open up school facilities [Open Doors supported by uk active and Nike]. These different offers need to be linked with this  over-arching Government-funded programme. We talk about being system partners, funded by Sport England, so we need to look at the different offers that are available and come together to work collaboratively for young people.

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Why is it important for HAF Active to work across Government departments? 

HAF has given us a really good opportunity to look at the system, because of the funding available. We are speaking with the Department for Education about how we can look at a sustainable sport and physical offer for young people outside of HAF, and that needs to have a cross-departmental focus. So, whilst it may be  funded by the DfE, with  the new sports strategy being developed by DCMS. This isn’t just about food provision, or even solely about supporting children in the holidays, but also about sport delivery to children in under-served communities. It’s all inter-connected and sits at the forefront of the work of the Sport for Development Coalition and its #OpenGoal initiative to maximise the contribution of sport and physical activity to reducing health and societal inequalities, and reduce public spending. It’s about bringing together partners to support children and young people in our underserved communities, and engaging with both local organisations and national partners to develop these opportunities, and then help the Coalition to influence policy. 

Unfortunately, with the cost of living crisis getting worse and more families facing the prospect of being plunged into poverty, we really need to make the most of this funding and this opportunity. We need to re-assess the way we deliver sport and physical activity so that we can provide these opportunities more efficiently and more effectively to more of the children and young people who need our support the most. 

Read more at hafactive.co.uk 

Pic credit: StreetGames.