Nine-year-old blogger sparks revolution in school meals

18 Jun 2012

Image from NeverSeconds

Martha Payne’s blog has gained celebrity fans and subsequently been shut down by her local council. It also inspired big changes to school meals and raised stg£80,000 for charity – not bad for a nine-year-old.

The Scottish schoolgirl behind NeverSeconds, a popular blog about school dinners, was shut down by her local council on Thursday, only to have the decision overturned within a day following a public outcry.

Payne’s blog documents her daily school lunches with photographs of her meals and a ratings system of marks out of 10 and number of mouthfuls (her preferred method of measuring portions). Just a few weeks old, the blog quickly became a viral success, even proving popular with high-profile celebrity chefs Jamie Oliver and Nick Nairn.

Fans of the blog send Payne images of their own school lunches, and the whole concept has sparked debate on how to provide healthier and more wholesome food for kids in public schools. This was already having a positive effect, as Payne and her father successfully campaigned for schoolchildren to be able to have unlimited salads, fruit and bread.

Council ban

However, on Thursday, Argyll and Bute Council attempted to shut down Payne’s daily posts by forbidding her to take photographs of her school meals. This came as an ill-advised knee-jerk reaction to newspaper reports on the blog’s soaring popularity that called for the dinner ladies to be sacked.

“This morning in maths I got taken out of class by my head teacher and taken to her office. I was told that I could not take any more photos of my school dinners because of a headline in a newspaper today,” wrote Payne (under her pseudonym, Veg) in what she thought would be her last blog post.

“I only write my blog not newspapers and I am sad I am no longer allowed to take photos. I will miss sharing and rating my school dinners and I’ll miss seeing the dinners you send me too,” it read.

Payne also expressed her concern that the blog’s fundraising would also be scuppered by the council’s ban. When she realised how much attention her daily posts were getting, Payne had decided to do some good with her new-found fame and provided a link on her page where readers could donate money to Mary’s Meals, a charity that establishes school-feeding projects in impoverished communities.

A happy ending

Payne’s heartbreak was short-lived however, as the council’s decision was swiftly overturned by council leader Cllr Roddy McCuish, who has admitted that attempting to quash the nine-year-old’s blog was a terrible mistake and that the communications team in the council would be reviewed following this event.

McCuish also expressed his disagreement with the newspaper reports that attacked the school’s catering staff and stated that a School Meals Summit involving staff, pupils, councillors and council officials will meet to discuss the best way forward in providing healthy, nutritious and attractive school meals.

And being shut down by the man hasn’t harmed Payne’s blogger status whatsoever. Twitter was set alight following her supposed final post, sparked by a tweet from another campaigner for healthier school meals, Jamie Oliver.

Jamie Oliver Twitter

The controversy around the council’s ban, the tweet from Oliver and the ensuing media coverage has seen Payne’s charity page donations reach more than stg£80,000, and rising. This is more than enough for Mary’s Meals to build a school kitchen in Malawi, which they have asked Payne to name. She settled on Friends of NeverSeconds, to pay homage to all her charitable supporters.

Payne is expected to resume posting her school dinners when she returns home from school today.

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.