A city woman is masterminding an international drive to promote healthy school meals and tackle inequality. Lesley Draper reports
It’s an initiative that will unite children across the world, has won the support of both British and US governments – and is being masterminded by a Sheffield woman with big ideas.
Lindsay Graham is a human dynamo - the kind of person who gets things done.
She started out as a district nurse in her native Inverness and went on to work in the voluntary sector. As health development officer in a new community school, she learned some valuable lessons about life.
“One family had three children who took it in turns to come to school; it turned out they only had one pair of shoes between them. The eldest child was also managing the household budget,” she says.
The team provided shoes, but also arranged for a weekly taxi so the girl could do all the shopping in one go, gave her cookery lessons and taught her budgeting.
“It makes you realise how important food is to a family.”
Lindsay’s work led to a wider role, promoting health in schools, and then as a national development officer, supporting the implementation of Scotland’s healthy school meals policy.
A job with the School Food Trust brought her to Sheffield seven years ago and in 2007 she set up her own consultancy, advising government agencies and local authorities on school food and health practice.
One of her first roles was helping to devise Sheffield’s strategic plan for childhood obesity.
She has also developed strong links with the US, working with senior government officials and bringing a delegation to Sheffield as part of a fact-finding mission.
Lindsay is passionate about her work, but she is equally enthusiastic about her adopted home: “People think I’m mad to leave my cottage in the Highlands and come and live in a city, but there’s something about the people of Sheffield – I love it!
“There’s a lot going here. I’ve been to lots of cities with my job, both at home and abroad, and I think Sheffield has the makings of something quite exciting in the next decade.
“It’s becoming a food destination, but more than that, it also has the possibility of becoming a European food city. I’d love to see a big international food conference here.”
Meanwhile, it makes a good base for her voluntary role as co-ordinator of International School Meals Day.
Lindsay believes that healthy eating plays an important part in children’s ability to learn and the day – March 8 – is a focus to promote that idea.
Schools will be encouraged to raise awareness of nutrition, promote well-being, highlight hunger and poverty and share success stories.
“Maybe I’m just a tenacious Scotswoman, but I’m very driven by health and equality. I believe in the value of food and education. I’m a connector, if you like, and I want to encourage organisations all over the world to get involved.”
Sheffield will be supporting the initiative through the city-based Children’s Food Trust and through school meals provider Taylor Shaw.
General manager Peter McGrath says: “We are going to focus on secondary schools and are planning around international foods. We are also considering how to make a link to learning.”
This may be through poems and short stories, or by ‘connecting classrooms’ video linking with children in other countries.
Dr Katie Wilson, executive director of the National Food Service Institute, will be visiting Sheffield.
“This is a starting point, but we’re hoping it might become a global event,” says Lindsay. “To have a focus on an annual basis would be amazing and I’d like to think Sheffield would be a part of that in years to come.
“We have the Children’s Festival and the Doc/Fest, it would be good to think that food could play a part too. If it works well this year, maybe we could have an international children’s food conference here…”
* International School Meals Day or follow on Twitter @IntSchoolMeals.