Northern Ireland news

Marcus Rashford supports west Belfast cafe's free kids' meals

Manchester United's Marcus Rashford. Pressure is ramping up on Boris Johnson to do a u-turn on free school meals

WEST Belfast business Loaf Cafe, who offered holiday lunches for schoolchildren, says it has been overwhelmed by the support its has received.

Manchester United player Marcus Rashford, who has been spearheading the End Child Food Poverty campaign, retweeted the cafe's offer to provide lunches for local children.

The cafe which is part of the NOW Group, a social enterprise that supports people with learning difficulties and autism into employment, had posted online: "We'll help out anyone who needs lunch for their children during half term next week.

"Drop in to Loaf on Grosvenor Road between 12 and 2pm (Mon-Fri) and just say 'holiday' to staff and we'll provide a healthy, nutritious lunch pack, free of charge."

Diane Hill, director of business and development for the NOW Group, said she never imaged the initiative would receive so much attention.

"I horrified at the amount of people with concerns about their children being fed, I have three children and can't imagine what the stress of worrying about that would be like," she said.

"We realised we'd be quiet next week and were in a position to do something to help out.

"I did not anticipate how big it would go, when Marcus Rashford retweeted it that was a fantastic boost, I'm just glad that we are in a position to make a difference, but also sad that it's needed and that people are struggling to feed their children."

Free school meal payments are being extended for the entire prolonged half-term holiday in the north.

It had already been agreed that direct payments would be made to families of pupils in receipt of FSM last week. While children usually do not receive lunches over holiday periods, the executive has said it would cover the extra costs.

In England, Prime MInister Boris Johnson is struggling to contain a growing Tory backbench rebellion as ministers continue to resist demands for a u-turn on free school meals.

A series of senior Conservatives have warned they could vote against the government if there is fresh Commons division on extending free meals in England during the school holidays.

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