Oasis Community Learning logo on a background of a Sodexo employee serving school meals

How we partnered with Oasis to support vulnerable pupils

Published on : 11/23/20
  • Sodexo Schools & Universities’ top priority has been to reduce the impact the Coronavirus (Covid-19) crisis has had on vulnerable children. By working together, Sodexo and Oasis have been able to prioritise and tackle the challenges presented to individual schools and the wider region.

    Oasis Community Learning (OCL) is one of the largest multi-academy trusts in England and run academies in five main regions throughout the UK, providing primary, secondary and all-through education.

    Sodexo’s partnership with Oasis began in 2010 when we were appointed as their catering provider. Initially Sodexo delivered services at just a few academies. In November 2015, we formalised a group contract across 47 of Oasis academies and now employing approximately 220 staff nationally.

    Working together through adversity

    OCL’s vision is to create “Exceptional Education at the Heart of the Community". Oasis academies currently serve over 32,000 young people across the UK, 49% of which are from disadvantaged backgrounds and 31% speak English as an additional language. 

    Sodexo Schools & Universities works in partnership with its clients to overcome the challenges these statistics bring so that each child can achieve their full potential. In 2020 with the sudden spread of the Coronavirus (Covid-19) and the introduction of lockdown restrictions, both OCL and Sodexo have been working on the frontline together to support some of the region’s most vulnerable pupils through a time of crisis.

    In light of the pandemic, it has been important for our business to revise and adjust processes to ensure that services run smoothly across Oasis academies. Whilst all the academies have remained open, many kitchens have been temporarily closed. This has meant Sodexo has had to reorganise so that open kitchens can continue to provide meals to all. To further support our client, Sodexo stepped up during the UK’s first lockdown to provide meals to an academy that is not part of our contract.

    Between 10 - 50 pupils who were either considered vulnerable or the children of key workers attended each academy throughout the first UK lockdown. It was important for us to continue delivering a positive experience for these children as much as possible whilst we adhered to the latest UK Government guidance.

    To achieve this, we worked in partnership with OCL at a national level to ensure consistency and high standards of service across the country. We also worked with individual academies to tailor our catering services and meet their needs at a local level.

    Challenges and outcomes during Covid-19

    When the UK’s lockdown was first enforced, Sodexo’s teams quickly came together with OCL to support vulnerable families and children. This meant proactively adapting our catering services whilst quickly responding to each academy’s individual requests for support.

    Among the adjusted and new services we provide to Oasis, Sodexo has:

    • created a rapid response to the Free School Meal Voucher scheme;
    • introduced grab bags for pupils to collect from school or that are delivered to homes;
    • supplied emergency food hampers for children needing to self-isolate;
    • supported the promotion of healthy minds for both families and faculty;
    • fundraised and donated food to help those in need where we operate;
    • maintained the pupil and student experience across all 47 academies.

    Supporting vulnerable families

    We quickly recognised that those not attending school due to lockdown restrictions would still need access to nutritional food, especially children who are eligible for Free School Meals (FSMs).

    Within 24 hours of UK lockdown announcements, our Schools & Universities teams worked to set-up an FSM voucher scheme in partnership with Sodexo’s Benefit and Rewards Services.

    The voucher provided parents support with food costs in lieu of their child(ren) receiving a free meal at school. The voucher, which was valued at £15 per week, could be spent at several major supermarkets. In the first day, Oasis ordered 13,000 of these new FSM vouchers to cover the first two weeks of lockdown.

    Once the Department for Education (DfE) established its own nationwide supermarket voucher scheme with Edenred, we continued to provide vouchers for Oasis parents whilst the relevant services were mobilised. This was to ensure no child was left without access to their FSM entitlement.

    In total, Sodexo issued 38,394 meal vouchers to Oasis supporting its vulnerable families during school closures.

    The vouchers were also used over school holidays, helping to alleviate ‘holiday hunger’ – a recurring issue for many families across the UK. With our help, more than 2,400 meals were provided to vulnerable and key-worker children during the school holidays.

    Going beyond the school gates

    Before our food voucher scheme was introduced, Sodexo made sure that pupils who are eligible for FSM’s continued to receive lunch if their academy was closed. This took the form of grab bags, which could either be picked up from school or delivered directly to their home.

    At the beginning of the UK lockdown some academies were providing up to 300 grab bags per day. A typical grab bag included a sandwich, a piece of fruit and a traybake. Some of our team also included uplifting messages for students in their grab bags to promote positive wellbeing during a difficult time.

    As Oasis academies reopened their gates in September for the new academic year, it became an immediate concern that some pupils, and maybe even whole year groups, would be sent home to self-isolate if their ‘bubble’ was exposed to Covid-19.

    In response to this potential issue, we worked with our retail partner to give FSM eligible pupils access to an emergency food hamper that is held in stock on-site. The hamper is intended to last a pupil for 2 to 3 days and offers not just food to make at home, but also a range of familiar retail packaged goods.

    So far we have provided more than 2,000 of these emergency food hampers to vulnerable families, 1,600 of these across the OCL academy estate.

    Promoting healthy hearts and minds

    With lockdown restrictions come potential mental health and wellbeing implications. We knew that this could be a serious issue for both pupils, parents and faculty who continue to adjust to a new normal. 

    As a top priority for Sodexo, we worked with our partner Thrive, a mental health and wellbeing app, to develop a series of wellbeing webinars for families and Oasis employees who needed support on a range of different topics including home-schooling and remote working.

    The series was delivered by psychologists and wellbeing experts, who shared practical advice and guidance with both parents and teachers as well as promoting opportunities for further support if they needed it.

    We were also conscious that pupils attending school needed to enjoy moments of normality to maintain the student experience and their wellbeing. To facilitate this safely, our teams worked closely with individual Oasis academies so that many sites could still celebrate their year six leaving party and take part in fun food menus for World Book Day wherever possible.

    Being there for those who need it most

    In order to tackle the root causes of disadvantage, OCL seeks to ensure that school improvement and community development go hand in hand. They have created Oasis Community Hubs which provide wide-ranging and integrated services, designed to meet the needs of local people.

    Oasis work with disadvantaged children, young people, whole families and members of the wider community, empowering them to transform their neighbourhoods into places that are safe, supportive and full of opportunity.

    At Sodexo we stand alongside OCL and believe in making a difference to the communities where we operate.

    As part of our support for vulnerable pupils during the school holidays, we teamed up with OCL on their Plate Up project. The initiative aims to beat ‘holiday hunger’, especially for families who depend on school meals during term time.

    Unfortunately, Oasis’s annual fundraiser for the project, Big River Give, did not go ahead due to the restrictions of Covid-19, which placed a potential financial strain on the programme’s upcoming demand.

    To help, Sodexo introduced Oasis to one of the Stop Hunger Foundation’s charity partners, Meals & More, who were able to offer support and funding for the programme to the tune of £10,000. Sodexo also donated their £400 Big River Give table cost to the holiday hunger project with further support added by Sodexo ambassador, Matt Dawson, who helped promote the Oasis online auction and prize draw which replaced the Big River Give fundraising event.

    Sodexo’s Schools & Universities teams have also been working directly with Oasis Community Hubs to support their local communities most vulnerable families.

    etween them, they donated almost 300kg of food to local communities. This total includes surplus stock Sodexo helped source from suppliers, including milk, vegetables, cereal bars and noodles, equalling almost £900 in value.

    Our teams have also been donating their time to support Oasis Community Hubs valuable work, volunteering more than 21 hours so far to support OCL’s most vulnerable groups.

    “Please may I take this opportunity to thank you and the teams for all the work that has gone into preparing meals for the key worker children, the vulnerable children, the staff on the front line and the hundreds and hundreds of grab bags for our families."

    The commitment, dedication and care shown by your staff is humbling and greatly appreciated. True heroes.

    Helen Arya - Regional Director for North West Primaries at Oasis Community Learning

    “I just wanted to say thank you so much for all your help and support this year. I am so grateful for your positive, can-do approach and your flexibility. You have managed to keep all our children well fed over this crisis in exceptionally difficult circumstances.

    Before Covid-19 you worked so hard to make sure meals were interesting and appealing. I am really very grateful for all that you do for us.

    Helen Adams - Principal, Oasis Academy Longmeadow

    Looking to the future

    Sodexo’s Schools & Universities teams have been key in the strategic phased reopening of Oasis academies by being flexible in our approach and having a rapid ability to scale up our operations at short notice.

    As we continue to work with OCL to stop the spread, we are looking to the future and how we can keep pupils and faculty members alike safe. We have worked closely with OCL to help manage social distancing during lunchtimes now that schools have reopened.

    As a global organisation, we have the advantage of using insight from our teams in China and France to implement virus prevention and control measures throughout Oasis academies, providing a practical and safe catering procedure that reduces the chance of infection.

    If you'd like to know more about Sodexo's services and what we can do for your organisation, please click here to complete an enquiry form.