Young people in Newcastle have been benefiting from an innovative programme which “fills the gap” created by school holidays.

Recent evidence has found that many families on lower incomes struggle to afford to keep their children occupied, and – even in some cases – properly fed in the absence of a free school meal.

Over Easter, community centres in Blakelaw and Simonside were full of children and young people taking part in free activities.  They were also provided with healthy meals.

Danielle Lawrence from Blakelaw took her daughters Brooke and Brogan every day.  “It’s normally so expensive to get them out of the house,” she said. “But this has been brilliant.”

The activities were organised – with funding from the Big Lottery Fund – by the Blakelaw Ward Community Partnership, working alongside Active Newcastle and the charity, StreetGames.  It had identified a growing problem throughout the country of the “triple inequalities of holiday hunger, isolation and inactivity” and developed a programme called Fit and Fed in response.

Every day more than 100 young people – from toddlers to teenagers – took part in sporting activities, dance, crafts and even a community clean up. As well as eating it, they also learned about the benefits of healthy food.

“We all joke about having to put up with the kids during the school holidays, but for many families it’s no laughing matter,” said Leanne Risk, the Children and Young Person’s Lead Practitioner at theBlakelaw Ward Community Partnership. The grant from the Big Lottery Fund means similar programmes can be run during the summer holidays.

Leanne added: “It’s expensive for all families during the school holidays and not everybody can afford things like holiday clubs and sports clubs.  We’re dealing with places where people don’t have access to those sort of things or the income to pay for them – and that’s the gap we’re all looking to fill.”

Duncan O’Farrell, Sports and Development Officer with Active Newcastle – part of Newcastle City Council – said: ““People like Leanne and her team are doing a fantastic job and it’s our role at Active Newcastle to help support their great work. We’ve done bits and pieces with the Blakelaw Centre for a number of years, and it’s wonderful to see so many young people accessing this local community project.”

Blakelaw Centre, now run by the Partnership, is used by 3,500 local people of all ages every week.  It has created 26 jobs and three apprenticeships and – just over a year ago – opened the UK’s first community post office.