Nicki* became a single mum 18 months ago after her marriage broke down and she was left to care for Annie (14) and Dylan (8) while also having to earn enough to cover the mortgage. A local childminder gave her a few hours work per week and she registered for income support. Receiving this benefit meant that her children became elligible for free school meals.
The divorce was a very stressful time for the family and Nicki admits that the income support and free school meal provisions lifted the financial burden, making it possible to feed and clothe Dylan and Annie. With one less thing to worry about, she was able to put her children first. Working full time hours to replace the drop in income without her husband’s salary woul have been hugely emotionally draining and the family would have suffered.
The Dorchester Lunch Kitchen helped reduce the family’s food bill over the six-week summer holiday. Annie and Dylan looked forward to going each day, enjoying the food but also appreciating having somewhere to go. Six weeks at home can pass extremely slowly without having anything to do. The children made friends at Lunch, enjoying playing with them each day and often going on to a local park or to the beach afterwards. Nicki also appreciated meeting other families who were in similar situations, sharing stories and experiences. Some of the people she met have become permanent friends, continuing to meet up, sharing lifts and letting the children play together.
Nicki heard about the Dorchester Lunch Kitchen when her son was invited through his school. After the first few days, sherealised how important it was and invited friends who she knew would appreciate similar support. Some of Nicki’s friends are two-parent families who she says are in even greater financial need than she is - if both parents are working the benefit entitlements are greatly reduced. Debt, high mortgage rates and the effects of the credit crunch on self-employed workers result in financial struggles for several families.
Since the summer, Nicki has started a childminding business of her own, allowing her to work hours that fit around Annie and Dylan’s school times. As this means working more than 16 hours a week, she has lost her benefits entitlement. At first, this left her financially worse off than before, earning less each month than she was receiving on income support. Now that her business is becoming more established things are starting to improve and she is a little better off each month. Nicki says that it would have helped a great deal if the free school meals provision could have continued for just a few more months to ease the transition.
Seeing the difference that Lunch made to their own family, Nicki and Annie have been inspired to volunteer at the Dorchester Lunch Kitchen in future.