Over the past 30 years, school food shifted from being produced on site in the school kitchens to external commercial caterers providing food which is often low quality. During the 1980s all primary schools in Dorset removed hot school meals, turning kitchens into libraries or IT suites. High profile campaigns, such as Jamie Oliver’s, created momentum for change with one of the outcomes being the provision of free school meals for primary school children aged 5-7 years. Small rural schools in Dorset, with under 40 pupils and no kitchen facilities, were unable to offer nutritious meals to pupils both eligible and ineligible for free school meals. Based on a small sample of schools, about 20% of pupils are eligible for free school meals, however we believe this to be an underestimate. Many of these children will not get a high quality meal at home. Schools reported lack of concentration and poor behaviour.
We brought back quality hot school meals to schools in Dorset that had not provided them for 20 years. Since 2006 we have been making freshly prepared, healthy school meals and supporting local businesses. As a ‘not for profit’ organisation we can focus on quality and service. We work hard to source the best quality ingredients, making things from scratch, so we know exactly what goes into each and every meal. Unlike larger profit driven businesses we don’t bulk buy lots of processed items and our school meals are freshly prepared daily and delivered short distances.
From October 2018 we have been able to supply 50 schools, producing approx. 3,700 meals daily, across Dorset (plus 2 in Somerset and Devon). This also means we have been able to employ a further 10 people from the local community. Schools have reported increased attention from children in the afternoon, reduced absences and improved eating skills.
We are contracted to schools and the parents pay the school. In the case of children who cannot afford school meals, the local authority pays the school.
In 2011 we borrowed £75,000, from CAF Venturesome, as a short term loan to help with seasonal cashflow which was fully repaid within a year. In 2014 we needed finance to build the capacity in our kitchens and we took a further loan from CAF Venturesome of £150,000. The project was so successful that we repaid our loan in 2017. In early 2018 we won 15 additional school contracts due to the reputation we have built over the last 10 years with schools in Dorset and beyond. And so in May 2018 we applied for a further loan from CAF Venturesome of £200,000 to fit out a new kitchen in Weymouth to be able to fulfil the new contracts. We also have £50,000 from Dorset Business Growth Programme and a £60,000 grant from Esmee Fairbairn Foundation.
We have been able to open a new kitchen in Weymouth so that we can now supply over 3,700 healthy school meals a day to rural primary schools in Dorset, Somerset and Devon.
All this was made possible thanks to a significant loan from CAF Venturesome. The cost of the new kitchen was pretty big but it meant that we could supply another 15 schools. Because we have a good relationship with CAF Venturesome, and have received social investment from them before, they were prepared to once again lend us the money.
Caroline Morgan, CEO
We are proud to support Local Food Links as we feel that you can’t invest enough into the wellbeing of children and local communities. Local Food Links has a strong management team that has overseen on-going growth in their services. They had borrowed from us before during very challenging periods and repaid their previous loans. When they approached us for finance to pay for a new kitchen in Weymouth we scrutinised their plans carefully. We were impressed by their financial management and contingency planning, as well as their closely managed client relationships.
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