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Caerphilly ahead of the curve with Universal Primary School Meals Rollout

Caerphilly Borough Council is leading the way in the rollout of Universal Primary Free School Meals, doing so a year ahead of schedule.

Along with a £3.5m investment in kitchen upgrades, schools in Caerphilly also launched a ‘Plant to Plate’ initiative, promoting the use of fresh and locally grown food in school menus through successful collaboration across schools, partners and suppliers.

Collaborating with local suppliers and farmers means an increased presence of seasonal Welsh vegetables, meat products and milk in school meals across the borough. Last year, a cauliflower cheese made from 700 locally grown cauliflowers was a particular hit at lunchtimes.

In September 2022, Wales began the Universal Primary Free School Meals (UPFSM) programme – part of the Co-operation Agreement between the Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru. Universal Primary Free School Meals will be rolled out to all primary school children and more than 6,000 nursery aged pupils across all local authorities in Wales by September this year. Across Wales, 19 local authorities – including Caerphilly Borough Council – have completed their rollout, providing free school meals to all pupils from reception to year 6. The remaining local authorities will complete rollout by September 2024.

Following the announcement from Welsh Government, Caerphilly Borough Council moved quickly. 

Using an independent surveyor, the council assessed the facilities that would soon be under increased pressure to deliver a much higher quantity of school meals. The audit found that in many schools, which were often housing older and smaller school kitchens, there wasn’t the capacity to feed the number of children who would be entitled to Universal Primary Free School Meals under the new programme. 

The council invested £3.5 million in funding made available from the Welsh Government to expand and refurbish primary school kitchens across the borough to accommodate the increased demand, through kitchen upgrades, expanded menus, and increased number of catering staff. 

Across the borough, 73 Caerphilly primary schools received crucial improvements to their facilities in 2022 that would not have been able to take place without the Universal Primary Free School Meals investment. By September 2023 Caerphilly were able to offer free school meals to all pupils from reception to year 6, 12 months ahead of expectations.

Marcia Lewis, Principal Officer for Catering at Caerphilly Council, emphasised the importance of the upgrades, stating: “When the rollout was announced, staff were apprehensive about how they were going to get every child fed. Everyone is very supportive and on-board – we all recognise the importance of these upgrades. 

“Since the rollout of UPFSM has been completed we are seeing more and more pupils accessing the service enjoying trying new foods, sitting down with friends improving their social skills whilst being educated in the importance of making healthy food choices as part of their school day. UPFSM has also helped parents financially at a time the cost of living is a concern for all. It’s been a true success for all involved.”