Aprons and statistics: Campaigning at the Conservative conference
While I have knocked on doors and stood on busy streets trying to engage the public before, I recently enjoyed my first opportunity to partake in a fun and creative way to campaign at a party conference.
I and five fellow dinner ladies and men set aside our dignity and employed some humility to take our Fair and Square campaign to the numerous MPs, peers, councillors and party members at this year’s Conservative party conference in Birmingham.
Fair and Square calls for all children living in poverty to get free school meals. Currently 1.2 million - over half of all school-age children in poverty - miss out on free school meals.
Hairnets and aprons
At conference we sported hairnets and delightful aprons, and positioned ourselves on Broad Street, just outside the conference centre. Armed with Fair and Square cereal bars we caught conference attendees for a chat about Fair and Square.
The weather was bitter, but we managed to miss the rain all morning and enjoyed useful conversations with councillors, Conservative party members and important figures from other organisations and added signature upon signature to our petition.
Meeting the deputy speaker of the House of Commons
Our unusual campaigning drew the attention of the deputy speaker of the House of Commons, Nigel Evans, MP for Ribble Valley.
He was engaged when I told him 700,000 children in poverty weren’t even entitled to free school meals. He questioned this statistic then his face quickly lit up in realisation as I explained why: because many of these young people’s parents work on minimum wage. Soon he was talking about the need for good quality meals and even of breakfast clubs at schools!
Although a tough and exhausting experience, I very much enjoyed our day campaigning.
It is common to see volunteers outside conferences campaigning on behalf of their organisations. But seeing media, campaign and policy officers dressed up as dinner ladies, running after conference attendees, waving cereal bars and wearing massive smiles in the bitter cold, is a rare and rather inspirational sight. And is just one of the many reasons I am enjoying volunteering with The Children’s Society.
Now is the time to campaign for free school meals
We're campaigning now because the government will revise the entitlement criteria for free school meals with the introduction of the new universal credit benefit system next year.
We see this as a historic opportunity to ensure all children living in poverty are able to benefit from free school meals.
Through our Fair and Square campaign we are calling for free school meals entitlement to be extended to all children in families in receipt of universal credit. Please join in today - tell your MP to help ensure all children in poverty receive a free school meal.