The community spirit is very much alive and well in Barry where a novel initiative designed to prevent children from going hungry is making a real impact.

If you pop into Cadoxton and Oak Field primary schools, you will be greeted by the unlikely sight of a shipping container at each of them.

Both are being put to very good use, though, having been converted into a food shop, complete with fridges and freezers, under the name of Big Bocs Bwyd - Big Box Food.

The food items have been donated from shops and supermarkets to prevent them from going out of date and being thrown away.

And on a Saturday morning the scene switches to Barry itself when the ‘CadField’ van, manned by school staff, does the rounds to ensure the stocks are snapped up.

Payment is whatever the buyer feels is appropriate and so successful has been this pilot project - run in partnership with FareShare, the UK’s national network of charitable food redistributors - that it is now rolled out in around 10 other schools in south Wales.

'Children coming to school hungry in the mornings'

Big Bwcs Bwyd, Barry
Food that would otherwise be thrown away gets put to good use by the participating schools

Janet Hayward, executive headteacher at Cadoxton Primary School and Oakfield Primary School, learned about it while talking to a Leeds headteacher at an awards ceremony in 2017.

“He had set up a project that was all to do with food and fighting hunger because he found he had children coming to school hungry in the mornings,” she said. “A lot of the supermarkets were able to give food that otherwise would have been put into food waste and he could recycle it, bring it into school, have children prepare snacks and also run a pay as you feel shop.

“I came back really fired up with that idea, spoke to staff here in Cadoxton about how we could do something similar and the journey began. We began getting food from our local supermarket, from other outlets across Barry, and then we began work with FairShare.

“And the project grew and grew in the community centre where a lot of our family engagement work happens and it grew so big that we needed more space. And that is where the idea of the shipping container came, so here in Cadoxton this is the first Big Bocs Bwyd as we call them - Big Food Box.”

Community benefits on many levels

Big Bwcs Bwyd, Barry
Community hubs help tackle social isolation

Oak Field School quickly came on board in what is a joint operation involving teachers, learning support assistants, parents and children, so much so that it is now embedded into the curriculum. The neighbouring Ysgol Gwaun Y Nant Primary School has joined forces with Oak Field School to strengthen it further.

“But what is fantastic is that as we work together with the community, we are building people’s confidence, we are building parents’ confidence, we are building children's confidence,” said Janet.

“It is really living and breathing the new curriculum for Wales. So it is an authentic learning experience and really makes a difference to people’s lives. Yes, we are fighting hunger but we are enabling people to see that they can make healthy food choices, that they can do different things with food than they ever imagined.

“What has been really exciting is that we have been able to spread this to other schools across south Wales, to Ammanford, Caerphilly and Cardiff. The project is growing and growing. The dream is that every primary school and lots of secondary schools in Wales can have a Big Bocs Bwyd.”

In addition to healthy eating and money-saving benefits, it has also boosted mental health by combating social isolation, with a community hub on each main site also helping the cause.

“A lot of people have come and made friendships around the shipping container and it’s fantastic to see people grow in confidence,” said Janet. “One thing we found coming back from Covid was that people had very much been isolated and the Big Bwcs Bwyd managed to fight that. People feel that they have got a real sense of purpose and feel a real link to the school.”

The Saturday morning shift

Big Bwcs Bwyd, Barry
The CadField van makes a real impact on its weekend journey through Barry as volunteers sell food items to the community

Working in partnership with United Worldwide Logistics, the CadField van travels between both schools on a Saturday morning, with teachers and learning support assistants on board to dispense the food sales.

They stop en route and engage with the community in the process, the two-way process paying dividends.

Janet said the teachers absolutely love their time on the road.

“As teachers, as educators, as people who work in schools, we do it to make a difference,” she said. “This project makes a difference.

“Traditionally people have seen schools as places where children simply come to learn to read and write and go away and do tests, but actually education is so much more than that.

“I am really proud in Wales that we have our new curriculum and the ambition is that we prepare our children to be healthy and confident, ambitious capable learners, ethically informed and creative and enterprising, and that is what this project enables our children to be and to do.

“The children really enjoy the authentic learning experience, which is working in the shop and cooking the food and growing the vegetables. It is a fantastic part of our school’s everyday curriculum and it goes beyond the school day too.”

Call to open Big Bocs Bwyd across Wales

Big Bwcs Bwyd, Barry
The scheme is regarded as special by those involved

Imagine the benefits of expanding the Big Bwcs Bwyd project to schools right throughout Wales?

Christie Harris, a parent/volunteer involved in the Barry initiative, does and would love it to happen.

"It would be absolutely brilliant if every school could have a Big Bocs Bwyd," she said. "If every parent knew there was somewhere they could go, struggling or not, that they have got someone that they can lean on, they can rely on. I think this provision is something special, I really do.

“I speak to parents at other schools and they are amazed that we have this provision. And I am sure they would love to have a similar provision. I think it would be really exciting to get this going in other places.”

For more on the project visit www.bigbocsbwyd.co.uk and for information on Education Consortia Wales visit the website.