The Vale of Glamorgan Council will soon offer free school meals to all primary pupils, once again delivering above and beyond Welsh Government targets.

From April 24, every child from Reception to Year 6 that attends a Vale school will be eligible for a daily meal without charge.

That exceeds provision set out in phase two of Welsh Government’s Universal Primary Free School Meal (UPFSM) rollout – which plans for all pupils from Year 3 to Year 6 to be given a free school meal by April next year – and means the Vale continues to be ahead of the curve.

In September, when Welsh Government wanted free school meals available to all Reception Pupils, the Council also included those in years one and two. The Vale also has also seen the highest uptake of UPFSMs in Wales.

The meals will be delivered in partnership with the Council’s Big Fresh Catering Company and its accelerated delivery has been possible thanks to the success of that venture.

Cllr Rhiannon Birch, Vale of Glamorgan Council Cabinet Member for Education, Arts and the Welsh Language, said: “In response to the current cost-of living crisis, the Council, alongside Welsh Government and the Big Fresh Catering Company, is pleased to announce that from the summer term all primary pupils in the Vale will be offered free, nutritious school meals.

“We are delighted that this provision will be available significantly earlier than in other parts of Wales due to the excellent performance of the Big Fresh Catering Company.

“Times are hard at the moment, with energy, fuel and food prices all increasing and many facing food poverty. Hopefully this can go some way to easing the pressure being felt by families and help ensure that no child goes hungry while in school.”

Established in 2020, Big Fresh provides school meals for partner schools and operates a commercial catering service, a bar and café at Penarth Pier Pavilion. An innovative business model allows the company to operate independently at arm’s length from the Council, with all surpluses returned to schools or used to sustain the business itself.

In keeping with this not-for-profit ethos, none of the company directors are salaried and the Council, as the only shareholder, has not drawn any funds from the company. As well as funding the free school meal programme, money from the business has been used to support school and community projects. It has also been invested in better quality ingredients and supported local community groups such as football teams and arts clubs.

Since its establishment, the Big Fresh Catering Company has created allergen-free menus, increased vegan and vegetarian options, with more meals made from scratch and all meeting Welsh Government nutritional standards. It also has a no single-use plastic policy, supporting the Council’s Project Zero initiative, which aims to make the organisation carbon neutral by 2030.