Making Scotland “the best place in the world to grow up” through cross-sector collaboration

| Rachel Berry

In Scotland, cross-sector partnerships are contributing to the Scottish Government’s aim of making Scotland the best place in the world to grow up. Soil Association’s Food for Life Scotland programme and Scottish Book Trust’s BookBug programme are two examples of how Scottish Government, local government and the third sector are working together to deliver positive outcomes for children in Scotland.

Getting more good food onto school plates

“At Food for Life Scotland (FFLS), we believe that school meals are an incredibly important part of the school day,” says Food for Life Head of Food Sarah Duley. “As a local authority chief executive said at a FFLS event, ‘hungry weans don’t learn’. That’s why we work in partnership with local authorities to source and serve good food for their early years and schools, through our Food for Life Served Here award.”

Funded by the Scottish Government, Food for Life Scotland works directly with local authorities to help them achieve the Food for Life Served Here Award. Currently, 17 Scottish local authorities hold the award, at either bronze, silver or gold. Schools in these local authority areas guarantee that the food they serve is freshly prepared from unprocessed ingredients; that meat and poultry is from farms which satisfy UK animal welfare standards; fish is from sustainable sources; eggs are from free range hens; and there are no undesirable additives, GM ingredients or trans fats. Wherever possible, meals also include locally-sourced, seasonal ingredients.

The benefits of the award extend beyond the school dining hall. “We define good food as food that is good for pupil’s health, the environment, and the economy,” says Sarah. “School food procurement is a powerful tool to shape sustainable supply chains for the benefit of local businesses and communities, as well as the environment.”

Working at the intersection between national and local government means the charity can respond to both national and local priorities. Sarah explains: “Public sector food, such as school meals, sets the tone for the nation’s relationship with food. Resourcing it at a national level can support greater participation at a local level. Both national and local government have a role to play in supporting a sustainable food system in Scotland, which benefits everyone, including children and families.”

As well as partnering with the public sector, Food for Life Scotland works closely with the food and drink industry, meaning the programme has an impact at every stage of the school meal journey, from farm to fork. “We take all the opportunities that food offers to deliver positive outcomes for everyone along that journey, from the producer to the caterer cooking and to the pupil eating the meal,” says Sarah. “And, as an independent organisation, we can speak up on behalf of school meal services, to make sure there’s a healthy and sustainable meal available for every child in Scotland”.

Find out more about Food for Life Scotland on their website.

Sharing songs, stories and rhymes

Since 2010, Scottish Book Trust’s Bookbug programme – funded by the Scottish Government and Creative Scotland – has given bags of books to babies and toddlers at key developmental stages during the earliest years. The programme aims to use literacy to support families and to leverage the positive outcomes of reading together, such as developing secure attachment between child and caregiver, and communication and empathy in children.

“Bookbug encourages parents and carers to talk, cuddle, sing and share stories and rhymes with their children from birth. It also supports early years professionals to discuss the benefits of songs, stories and rhymes with parents and carers when gifting the Bookbug Bags,” explains Emma Dunn, Early Years Communications and Events Manager at Scottish Book Trust. “It’s a free, universal programme and a wide range of early years professionals are involved, including health visitors, social workers, family support workers, nursery and childcare staff and librarians.”

It’s that cross-sector element that’s so crucial to the success of the programme. The charity has partnership agreements with every local authority in Scotland outlining how the programme will be delivered. A Bookbug Co-ordinator in each local authority area manages bag gifting and organises Bookbug Sessions. Each session is an opportunity for babies and young children, and their families, to get together to share stories, songs and rhymes. And during the pandemic lockdowns, the charity supported its partners across the country to take thousands of Bookbug Sessions online. Bookbug also provides targeted support to families who need it the most through its Bookbug for the Home initiative. Practitioners from health visitors to family resource workers reported this was hugely successful and gave them an engaging way to provide families with much needed help and support.

A 2017 evaluation of Bookbug by the Centre for Research on Families and Relationships identified how the programme delivers positive outcomes across Scotland: “The Bookbug programme is high quality, understandable, transferable into different local settings and hugely respected by those involved. … At the heart of the programme is universalism: this means that Bags and Sessions are free, and available to everyone. Examples of accessibility and inclusivity include the delivery of Sessions in Gaelic in seven local authorities, dedicated titles for children with Additional Support Needs and translated Bookbug information.”

“We couldn’t do what we do without partnerships,” says Emma. “We work with the health service and local authorities, who deliver our bags and run our sessions. And we have steering groups in each local authority area, which include representation of different sectors (health, education, libraries, third sector, social work) working together to bring the benefits of Bookbug to families in their communities who need it the most. It’s never too early – or too late – to start sharing books with a child.”

Find out more about Bookbug on Scottish Book Trust’s website.

Photo by Andy Buchanan

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