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U.K. City Council Attempts to Ban 9-Year-Old’s School Lunch Blog, Relents

It’s no doubt been a bewildering few days for nine-year-old Martha Payne AKA Veg, the writer behind the blog NeverSeconds. Her picture and review blog of school lunches suddenly became the focus of the local Argyle and Bute Council’s ire when they ordered the primary school girl to cease writing immediately, angry over an embarrassing local news article. Today, however, the council has done a complete 180 on the subject.

Payne began her blogging career by taking pictures and reviewing the food provided by her primary school, which eventually led to a lively international discussion about school lunches. In recent posts, Payne has not only discussed her own food, but the lunches provided in Los Angeles, Israel, and other countries. Payne even began a JustGiving fundraising page for the Mary’s Meal school lunch program in Africa, which has raised over $36,940.

On her blog, Payne wrote about how she was taken out of class and told she could no longer photograph school food. She was told that this was “because of a headline in a newspaper today.” An update posted by her father shortly afterward clarified that it was the city council, not the school, that had ordered the ban on photography in the lunch area.

Yesterday, the Argyle and Bute Council issued a lengthy statement which blamed recent negative media coverage of the school lunch program on Payne’s blog. Though most of the statement is a defense of the lunch program, detailing the options afforded to pupils, it opens with this frankly childish attack on Payne and her blog. The statement has since been removed, but not before The Next Web was able to post it:

Argyll and Bute Council wholly refutes the unwarranted attacks on its schools catering service which culminated in national press headlines which have led catering staff to fear for their jobs. The Council has directly avoided any criticism of anyone involved in the ‘never seconds’ blog for obvious reasons despite a strongly held view that the information presented in it misrepresented the options and choices available to pupils however this escalation means we had to act to protect staff from the distress and harm it was causing. In particular, the photographic images uploaded appear to only represent a fraction of the choices available to pupils, so a decision has been made by the council to stop photos being taken in the school canteen.

There have been discussions between senior council staff and Martha’s father however, despite an acknowledgement that the media coverage has produced these unwarranted attacks, he intimated that he would continue with the blog.

The council has had no complaints for the last two years about the quality of school meals other than one from the Payne family received on 6 June and there have been no changes to the service on offer since the introduction of the blog.

Today, however, the council has completely changed its tone. Whether it was the negative coverage of their bizarre actions, or the tens of thousands of dollars raised by Payne’s charity, the council has apparently seen the error of its ways. From the Council website:

Statement from Cllr Roddy McCuish, Leader of Argyll and Bute Council

“There is no place for censorship in this Council and never will be whilst I am leader. I have advised senior officers that this Administration intends to clarify the Council’s policy position in regard to taking photos in schools. I have therefore requested senior officials to consider immediately withdrawing the ban on pictures from the school dining hall until a report can be considered by Elected Members. This will allow the continuation of the “Neverseconds” blog written by an enterprising and imaginative pupil, Martha Payne which has also raised lots of money for charity.

But we all must also accept that there is absolutely no place for the type of inaccurate and abusive attack on our catering and dining hall staff, such as we saw in one newspaper yesterday which considerably inflamed the situation. That, of course, was not the fault of the blog, but of the paper.

We need to find a united way forward so I am going to bring together our catering staff, the pupils, councillors and council officials – to ensure that the council continues to provide healthy, nutrious and attractive school meals. That “School Meals Summit” will take place later this summer.

I will also meet Martha and her father as soon as I can, along with our lead councillor on Education, Michael Breslin to seek her continued engagement, along with lots of other pupils, in helping the council to get this issue right. By so doing Martha Payne and her friends will have had a strong and lasting influence not just on school meals, but on the whole of Argyll & Bute.”

This statement supersedes all other council statements on the matter already issued.

Payne has yet to update her blog, but hopefully this experience hasn’t left too bad a taste in her mouth. Remember, Martha: Adults can blow a lot of hot air, but they’re pretty easy to embarrass. Keep up the good work.

(NeverSeconds, The Argyle and Bute Council via The Next Web, top image via NeverSeconds)

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