I HAVE been following with interest the discussions and ideas surrounding the Scottish Government’s Good Food Nation Bill. I listen, read and shake my head as the wheel turns and the same questions are posed over and over again and more think tanks are assembled.

Almost a decade ago our small primary school, from an area classed at that time by government data as the third most disadvantaged in Scotland, won The Herald’s Champion of Champions Award. I believe we won because of our wide variety of initiatives aimed at raising attainment, empowerment, resilience and health and wellbeing. My comments address mainly health and wellbeing, although all are intertwined.

We introduced a programme which educated all children from P1 to P7 on the nutritional content of food – the good and the not-so-good. The children became expert, as did their parents, at spotting the pitfalls when checking snacks, packed lunches or when shopping. Our tuck shop was run, and the stock purchased or made, by the children.

Next we looked at lunchtimes. Giving free meals to all children is a very worthy and in too many cases much-needed goal. However, will they eat the food? We found the food wastage in the dinner hall was horrifying, running into kilos, and also showed huge disrespect to those who had prepared it.

Working on the premise that you can take a horse to water, we asked the children what their favourite school dinners were and then sat down with the school meals nutritionist to healthily adapt both menus and portions. We weighed the waste each day, shared the results and goals with the children and kept a running record. Those who brought packed lunches took all leftovers home so that parents could see what was not eaten and amend as appropriate.

The next step was to encourage clean plates and so we opened a “restaurant” alongside the dinner hall. All who cleared their plates consistently ate in the “restaurant”, which had flowers, menus, healthy salad dressings etc. So what happened? The “restaurant” became the norm. Packed lunch numbers fell but most incredibly of all, our food waste fell at one point to 0.5kg! We researched the possibility of having our leftover food recycled but facilities were not available – otherwise we would have had zero waste.

With regard to families buying junk food, always spoken of with a slight tone of disdain, try working out what you have eaten nutritionally next time you are in a restaurant. Most families will visit fast-food chains. At least these food outlets post nutritional information and if families, through their children, are armed with knowledge they have the choice. It is the large food companies we should hold accountable for all the junk, in particular sugar and its by-products, which they have stealthily added to our food over the years. Clear labelling per recommended portion size should be mandatory, with a close look at what in fact is nutritionally sound.

What else did we do? We ran cookery classes for P6 and P7. We were a “running school”. Every class ran/walked for a prescribed time each week and pedometer challenges engaged our senior pupils. Water coolers were made available in each room. We introduced resilience classes, child meditation and child massage across the whole school.

Yes, almost a decade ago, our small school made an attempt to move in a better direction, achieving a modicum of success, which cost next to nothing, but sadly we ran out of time as our school was in line for amalgamation. Therefore, while I have no resolved conclusion to offer, I believe that we made a significant difference over a few years.

Was it easy? Of course not – it required persuasion, persistence, team work, communication, engagement and a wee bit of imagination. Would it work across the board? Going back to my previous theme – horses for courses. What common elements are manageable and what can enhance and be added?

I am sure good examples are out there right now, but is anyone looking? Is anyone asking the right people? If you are reading this right now and have something going on which is proving successful or even promising, no matter how small, send it straight to the Scottish Government. It could be a vital part of the big jigsaw.

Isobel Delussey

IT was desperately disappointing to see Bella Caledonia devote so much space to such a poorly researched, personal attack on Scotland’s housing associations (Exploding the Myths, April 7).

The article shows a complete lack of understanding of the contribution that community-based housing associations have made over the last 40 years, both as good landlords and as community anchor bodies who provide so much more than housing alone.

The claim that the “community-based housing association movement is something of a misnomer” was ill-informed and extremely disrespectful to local people who, over the last 40 years, have sat on housing association management committees in order to help improve their community.

What was really behind this article was an anachronistic “socialist” belief that there was never anything as good as municipal housing. Try telling that to tenants in areas like Easterhouse and Castlemilk, where associations came into being to put right the long-standing failings of “public housing”.

Quite how the author equates the old municipal world with tenant participation and tenants’ rights is anyone’s guess: councils and councillors of the 1980s and before knew exactly what was best for tenants and didn’t need to waste time asking them.

The development of the community-based housing association is a fantastic and unique Scottish success story. It should be embarrassing to both The National and Bella Caledonia that they were so taken in by what was nothing more than a personal rant masquerading as evidence-based research.

Helen Moore
Chair, Glasgow and West of Scotland Forum of Housing Associations