Reflections on Live Below the Line

It is Saturday and I can now reflect on what I have gained from taking part in Live Below the Line, which 20 Year 9 girls and 8 members of staff took part in this week.

We have raised over £700 for Restless Development, a charity that champions young people to make a difference to other people’s lives; something that I strongly support. The girls have said that after taking part in this challenge, they have a greater understanding of what it is like to do without, not to have the freedom to eat when they like and to be limited in the type of food they can eat. They have learned the effects of not having a nutritious and fulfilling diet. They were more tired and I have to say my Deputy Head noticed that I was more grumpy (she was right, a poor diet dies makes you irritable). At the end of the week the girls were not craving for junk food, they were craving for fruit and vegetables. I was also surprised that they were not craving for meat.

For each meal the girls carefully worked out their budget and what they could afford. They scoured the internet to find out how much pasta, rice, lentils cost and what they could afford to put with it. They quickly found food they took for granted became a luxury and that for a week their diet would be loaded with complex carbohydrates. Dairy products and fruit and vegetables would be the exception, rather than the norm. They began to appreciate the cost of food and how little they could afford to buy.

The campaign encourages you to come together as a community to share your resources and enjoy meals together. For me it was a pleasure to sit down every lunch time and eat the delicious food served by the girls. You really do saviour every spoonful and the day we were given two pieces of very cheap chocolate, it was like nectar! I was taken aback by the girls’ culinary skills. Each lunchtime a different group of girls worked effectively together as a team, to ensure we had lunch in time. It was like a military organisation and I can only say what a superb Food Technology Department we have who have taught the girls these skills so well.

Personally I have appreciated more the difficulties people in this country have with limited funds. A pound a day for food does not go far. Choice does not exist and a poor diet makes you tired, lack lustre and irritable. The girls were asked if they would do it again, they said they would not from choice but they would if it was to raise money for charities that make a difference to poverty.

Live Below the Line is something I would encourage all schools to take part in. It brings people together, it raises money but most of all it makes you appreciate what you have got.

Friday Before a Feast

I thought by the end of the week I would become less hungry, instead I found myself queuing up early for our final lunch, lentil soup with a cheese scone. Delicious! Yet again the girls have impressed me with their culinary and organisation skills. To cook for 28 people a nourishing meal in less than 30 mins is no mean feat.

Yet each time the team of girls have managed this with minimal support by their supervising teacher, in this case Mrs Brice.  This lunchtime we were delighted to welcome Jim Stewart, editor of the Times and Citizen who paid his 30p and joined us for lunch. He chatted happily with the girls as their shared their experiences. The girls missed most fresh fruit and vegetables, they were simply too expensive to buy on their limited budget, and were looking forward to Saturday morning where they could have a large breakfast. I have to say as my stomach rumbled through the prize giving at Broughton Manor that I attended as guest speaker I too was looking wistfully to a pain au chocolat on Saturday morning

Day two of the Live Below the Line challenge, where cooking meets contemplation for the girls and staff taking part. Learning about cheap and nutritious ingredients goes hand in hand with considering the position of famillies throughout the world for whom living on a pound a day, or less, per head is the norm.    

Food for Thought.

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When I think about poverty, I am not unaware of the irony of doing so from the position of privilege. As an elite, private school, we enjoy the very best of education, the highest level of comfort and the optimum degree of consumer satisfaction. However,  the degree of privilege we benefit from also brings with it a high level of emotional responsibility and an expectation of leadership. Being in a position of economic power frees up the time to consume news and to reflect upon issues. It ideally qualifies us to view the bigger picture and to take in much more than a hurried snapshot of society.

It is this position from which we have embarked upon Live Below the Line, a national initiative whereby participants are challenged to spend just £1 per day on food and drink. Today was the first day, for 20 students and eight staff, to economise, innovate and consider the best way to approach what to us is an optional, temporary predicament.  To make the most of our situation, and to mirror our holistic approach to problem solving, we have decided to pool our resources. Each day this week, the girls will be cooking and preparing a meal for all the participants for a maximum of 30p per head. As well as ensuring that everyone Taking part, including me, is well fed and nourished, this also offers us an opportunity to come together and discuss the wider issues of domestic and global poverty.

It is in this area that we are rich. The intellectual bounty and mental stimulation we enjoy each day are akin to opening a picnic basket of ideas and feasting at will. We will, however, never be replete. Today, I was so impressed with the way the girls approached the challenge of cooking for a large group on such a tight budget. There were tensions, there were frustration, but – above all – there was negotiation and care. Our pasta and vegetables were served without fuss and they were extremely tasty. For me, the enjoyment was underpinned by the knowledge of the deeper meaning behind it  and our sated appetites afterwards were testament not just to the food but to the compassion and purpose that seasoned every mouth full.

Even on £1 each a day, we are very rich indeed.      

Taking our place at the table to understand life on a £1 a day

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Next week BGS is getting behind the national campaign Live below the Line. Not only does the campaign raise money, it also heightens an understanding and awareness of individuals living below the poverty line. The campaign challenges individuals to live off a £1 a day for five days and in doing so raise money through sponsorship as well as bringing to life the direct experiences of the 1.4 billion people currently living in extreme poverty. All around the world, including the UK, people are struggling to feed their family.

This year I have very much enjoyed teaching Geography to Year 9 pupils and one topic they particularly feel passionate about is third world development. They question why, in this day and age, families struggle to survive and more importantly what can they do to make a difference. I was not surprised that when offered the Live below the Line challenge that the girls embraced it and wanted to take part.

Next week 20 girls from Year 9, a fifth of the year group, and 8 members of staff, including myself will take up this challenge. We have met over several weeks to discuss and plan how best to approach and tackle the challenge. The decision has been to divide into five groups to enable us to pool and share our resources. Each day a group will cook lunch in the Food Technology centre for the others. We will come together and share the food, offering a collective moment of both encouragement and reflection on the purpose of the challenge.

I have been very proud of the girls’ mature approach. They recognise that it will be a challenge; they will have to forego the things they love to eat and will not be able to eat anything at any time. But they also recognise that for many families it is even more challenging as that £1 has to be used not just for food but also clothing and shelter. They are keen to raise money and have set up a Just Giving page which they would love people to support. We will also be running a blog during the week where the girls can share their experiences. This post will be the first in our Live Below the Line blog and you can follow the girls’ progress throughout the week here.

Some have questioned whether I am being a responsible adult encouraging adolescent girls to follow extreme diets. For me, the campaign is not about encouraging the girls to starve, quite the contrary, it is about learning how to plan, share and economise. Important lessons in life, I think, for the girls to learn. I am also committed to ensuring that girls at BGS have a greater understanding of communities other than their own and feel they can make a difference to other people’s lives. This campaign does both and I have been very impressed by the manner in which the girls have embraced it.