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Other news: The Social Enterprise Loan Fund (TSELF)

As the recession bites and funding from sources such as banks gets harder to access, the importance of alternative providers of finance is likely to grow. Whole School Meals in east Kent is one example of a social enterprise which, thanks to a �90,000 loan from TSELF, is now thriving.

When Stephanie Hayman, a local mum and parent governor from Deal in Kent, heard that the contract for school meals in the county was to go out to tender, she saw an opportunity to reverse the decline in local school meals standards. By getting together with schools and parents, Stephanie formed a community owned company � Whole School Meals Ltd � to bid for the contract and to provide healthy, home-cooked school meals using fresh, locally sourced and seasonal ingredients.

�The response from head teachers and parents was tremendous,� says Stephanie. �We publicly invited anyone who was willing to join us in a voluntary capacity to help us create the company and bid for the contract � and we were delighted by the response.�

As a result, in July 2006 Whole School Meals won the contract for 21 schools in Deal, Sandwich, Dover and across east Kent.

75% of the company is owned by the schools it serves, with parents and local businesses owning the rest. Each of the school shareholders initially put in �1,000 and any profits made will be returned to the school community.

Just as the contract was due to start, a loan of �90,000 from The Social Enterprise Loan Fund came through, as Stephanie explains.

�SJ Davis, the Regional Director of TSELF, was a real help and supported us from the start. The loan came at just the right time and helped pay for initial staffing and equipment costs.�

The company has expanded its role and remit over the last three years to include after-school cookery clubs, a cookery summer school and outside catering services. It also offers a consultancy for other social enterprises looking to set up a catering service and for schools looking to bring school meals in-house.

�In my view, whether as schools or parents, we have a responsibility to make sure our children are well fed. With the help of Kent County Council, Whole School Meals has been able to source fresh local ingredients cost-effectively and to produce healthy nutritious meals. We have been able to maintain the quality and affordability of our meals despite falling school numbers and food price increases.�

SJ Davis adds: �Whole School Meals offers a valuable service to local schools, providing children with good food at fair prices. However, as a social enterprise, their objectives are more than just commercial.

�From proactively supporting the development of a local supply base for fresh produce, to involving parents, staff and pupils in the development of the company, they are making a real impact on the community they serve and The Social Enterprise Loan Fund is pleased to be supporting them.�

�We couldn�t have done it without TSELF,� concludes Stephanie. �The finance they provided made it all possible.�

To find out more about Whole School Meals visit www.wholeschoolmeals.co.uk or call 01304 611010; for more information about TSELF visit www.tself.org.uk or call 020 7680 1028.