Edinburgh retailers Dennis and Linda Williams took community involvement to a new level last month by providing a free healthy breakfast for over 400 local schoolchildren.
by Antony Begley
Active community involvement sits at the very heart of what it means to be a local retailer in Scotland, of that there is no doubt. The Scottish Local Shop Report, published by the Scottish Grocers Federation, shows that in 2015, some 87% of convenience store retailers in Scotland were involved in community engagement activities. That’s a hugely impressive stat and something the entire industry can be proud of. But while most retailers are serious about their community involvement, very few can claim to bring as much passion and commitment to working with the local community as Edinburgh Premier retailers Dennis and Linda Williams.
With three decades of serving the same community under their belt, it’s no surprise that the high profile couple are well established as pillars of the local area, involved in everything that’s happening. They are also multiple winners of SLR’s Community Involvement Retailer of the Year award.
But what is surprising is the energy and creativity that they still bring to the task year in, year out, always dreaming up new ideas and bringing ambitious projects to life – all while simultaneously running a successful convenience store in Oxgangs on the south side of Edinburgh, between the city centre and the bypass.
That commitment to engaging with the local community was ratcheted up another notch or two last month when the dynamic duo organised and co-ordinated a free healthy breakfast for over 400 pupils at the local Oxgangs Primary School.
“The truth is that there are too many kids in our area who either don’t get a decent breakfast in the morning, or don’t get one at all,” Linda told SLR. “So we decided we wanted to do something about it. We wanted to give them the chance to try some healthier options that they maybe don’t have regularly or perhaps have never had at all.”
The result was the Big Breakfast, hosted at the local primary school and supported by Healthy Living Scotland and a number of suppliers and wholesalers including Muller-Wiseman, Allied Bakeries, PepsiCo, Warburtons and Booker. It was of course Dennis and Linda who got everyone on board and pulled them together to deliver what was a truly inspirational morning that went down a storm with the children.
With breakfast club funding for schools at risk in Scotland, the event also reinforced how important these are to communities across the country. “It’s pretty appalling that something as important as feeding our kids well and giving them a decent start to their day and even their lives is subject to funding cuts,” said Linda. “But that’s exactly where we are and it’s simply not good enough.”
Breakfast clubs are a hugely valuable service to many local communities, allowing parents who work to drop their children off at school early, letting them get to work on time or allowing them to participate in further education or training. They are also an important way of ensuring that children living in low income households get a proper breakfast, which research has shown, isn’t always the case.
Indeed, during the breakfast morning it was interesting to spend time with the children as they tried things like porridge, wholemeal wraps with honey, cereal and fresh fruit. Revealingly, several children said they had never seen a kiwi fruit before, or had never had banana on toast before.
John Lee, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at SGF, said: “Initiatives like these are especially important in the era of welfare reform, stagnating incomes and the increasing reliance of families on foodbanks. It is well known that children who do not eat a proper breakfast perform more poorly in school as hunger often leaves them unable to concentrate on their schoolwork and they suffer from low energy.”
Dennis commented: “We have always believed that there are two things at the heart of every community: the local shop and the local primary school. We are passionate about supporting our schools, our children and parents. Giving children a healthy breakfast is the best way to make sure they get the right start to the school day. Breakfast clubs are the ideal way to do this and we will continue to do everything we can to support breakfast clubs at Oxgangs primary and all the schools in our area”.
Maureen Watt MSP, Scottish Government Minister for Public Health, was also vocal in her support of the event: “As they launch the big breakfast event and will shortly launch their fruit club, I would like to pass on my sincere thanks and admiration to Dennis and Linda for the work they are doing to further encourage children and young people to make good food choices. I am sure the work they are doing on both initiatives will be a great success and I have no doubt that the work they are doing will have a positive effect on the children in their local area.”