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Leeds school to stay open in Christmas holidays – to feed hungry children


The stall at Richmond Hill Primary School in Leeds, where parents can by food on a “pay as you feel” basis

By Elle Rigby

A HEADTEACHER from a deprived area of Leeds is opening his school over the Christmas holidays – to make sure his pupils do not go hungry.

Nathan Atkinson, 40, will be providing breakfasts and Christmas meals at Richmond Hill Primary School, next week, despite term finishing today.

He says he is on a mission to combat hunger and improve the concentration of his 600 pupils – 70 per cent of whom are eligible for free school meals.

He has teamed up with the pioneering food waste initiative The Real Junk Food Project, initially installing toasters in every classroom and making “breakfast” the first lesson of the day.

There is also a pay-as-you-feel market stall outside the school for parents and now a café where youngsters can get free food every morning.

And the initiative will continue in the holidays – with a full-time member of staff providing breakfasts and some Christmas meals for families and Mr Atkinson will be re-stocking the market stall every day in the run up to December 25.

He said: “When I first came to Richmond Hill it quickly became obvious that there was an issue of people coming in hungry. Kids would tell us that they were hungry and of the kind of food that they would be eating at home where they didn’t have any electricity.”

Mr Atkinson wrote the word “Hunger” in his office and vowed to help the children around him.

He has worked with TV chef Jamie Oliver who shares his belief that combating holiday hunger is vital, so there is provision 52 weeks a year.

The Real Junk Food Project provides food that is past its official expiration date but is judged to be still fit for human consumption.

Mr Atkinson said he felt moved at being able to provide broccoli to a woman who had never tried it before. He said: “The quality of food on offer is amazing, yet it is all food that has been deemed by some as unfit for eating.”

The impact of his initiative has led to 39 other schools being signed up to the scheme.

Mr Atkinson, who has been nominated for next year’s one million US dollar Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize, said: “You just do what you’ve got to do, it’s our responsibility as teachers, as educators.

“I just want to empower other people. I’ve cried a few times though, I can tell you that.”

One parents who wished to remain anonymous said: “You never feel judged or embarrassed by this market or café, it’s just created a community spirit and it’s so good to have something available that is so necessary when we have so little.”

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