Dinner ladies

Activities & Events

As a project team, we regularly engage with schools, communities, charities and policymakers. On this page, we share details of our activities and events.

Upcoming Events

Thursday 5th September – International Standing Conference for the History of Education, online.

Gary from Strand 1 and Heather from Strand 2 will be presenting papers as part of the panel: ‘(De)colonizing processes in educational history: agents, policies, reforms and resistance’.
More details to follow.

Wednesday 11th September, 14:00-15:30 – British Educational Research Association Conference, University of Manchester.

All three strands of the project will present papers following the conference theme of ‘Cultural difference and decoloniality’.
More details to follow.

Wednesday 30th October – Saturday 2nd November – Oral History Association Annual Conference, Cincinnati, US.

Ellen from Strand 3 and Isabelle from Strand 2 will co-present an interactive workshop based on outreach work with one of our partner schools. Session title: ‘The UK School Meals Service: Past, Present – and Future? An Intergenerational Oral History Case Study’.
More details to follow.

Past Events

Tuesday 9th July 2024 – Social History Society Annual Conference, University of Durham.

Laura from Strand 1 of the project presented a paper entitled: ‘[A] very vexed question’: School meals supervision, teachers, and professionalisation, c.1906-1968′.

Saturday 6th July 2024, 12:00-13:00 – Oral History Society Festival, British Library, London.

The Strand 2 team led a workshop about the use of sensory memories in our new oral histories of the School Meals Service. This interactive session shared recordings from interviews and invited participants to reflect on the value and ethics of a focus on the sensory.
Isabelle Carter and Heather Ellis, ‘The Sensory as Method? Sensory memories in oral histories of the UK School Meals Service’.

Thursday 4th July 2024, 11:00-12:30 – Children’s History Society Conference, Newcastle University.

All three strands of the project presented a paper to share progress updates and our latest findings.
Laura Newman and Gary McCulloch, ‘From Policy to Practice: The development of the School Meals Service (SMS)’.
Isabelle Carter and Heather Ellis, ‘Children’s Culinary Worlds: School Meals, Memory and Experience’.
Ellen Bishop and Gurpinder Lalli, ‘Entanglements of the School Dining Hall: Current Perspectives on the School Meals Service (SMS)’.

Monday 24th June 2024, The International Education Studies Association (TIESA, formerly BESA) Conference, University of Winchester.

Ellen from Strand 3 presented a paper titled: ‘The School Meals Service: Policy, Practice, and Innovation’. The paper shared some of the brilliant practices of our partner schools around creating a school food ethos and promoting food education. Here is Ellen in the very pretty conference venue, which also doubles as a wedding venue over the summer!

Friday 21st June 2024, Team away-day, UCL.

Strands 1, 2 and 3 met in person this month to share progress updates, finalise conference plans for the summer and autumn, and make plans for publications including our project monograph and forthcoming article with History of Education.

Tuesday 18th June 2024, 17:30-19:00 – Oral history and intergenerational perspectives of the UK School Meals Service, Life Cycles Seminar Series, Institute of Historical Research, London.

In June, Heather and Isabelle from the Strand 2 team spoke about intergenerational perspectives of school meals based on our new collection of oral history interviews. The paper asked: how do historians work with accounts narrated from different perspectives across the life cycle, particularly when they are shaped by the experiences both real and imagined of family members and children past and present? We reflected on how these issues are shaping our analysis and what they can tell us about the experience of school food across generations.

Tuesday 21st May 2024 – Food Geographies Research Group Workshop, Coventry.

In May, Ellen from our Strand 3 team attended a two-day workshop in Coventry focusing on ‘New Directions’, organised by the Food Geographies Research Group. Attendees discussed key issues, literature, and challenges, with Ellen focusing on ‘food justice and citizenship’. The workshop was a great opportunity to share project findings and helped Ellen to think through some of themes arising in the data from the present-day experience of school meals, such as spatialities, power, and care. Attendees also got the opportunity to visit Serendipity Garden, a local allotment, and sample a meal made almost entirely out of allotment produce at the Food Union!

Wednesday 13th March 2024, 10:30-12pm – School Meal Memories: Oral Histories and Communities of Experience in Twentieth-Century Britain, History of Experience Conference, Tampere University, Finland.

In March, Isabelle from Strand 2 spoke about school meal memories and communities of experience at the History of Experience Conference in Tampere, Finland. The paper explored how our oral history interviews – a series of conversations with individuals and groups about their memories, impressions and feelings about school meals – can help historians to understand society in the past and present.

Dr Isabelle Carter presenting on behalf of Strand 2 at the History of Experience conference.

Wednesday 6th December 2023, 1-2pm- Cost of Living Crisis: The Rise of Food Banks in Schools, University of Wolverhampton, Walsall Campus, WA007

This event aims to raise the awareness of the rise of food banks in schools. Over 4 million children in households are affected by food insecurity. The Food Foundation (2022) define food insecurity as those individuals and families who have limited or unreliable access to food due to the lack of financial resource. Schools are playing a critical role in combatting against food insecurity by operating food banks. This is an opportunity to join the debate and explore ways in which we can develop a call to action.

We are working in collaboration with Walsall North Food Bank and welcome donations to this event.


17-19th November 2023- History of Education Society Conference, INOX, University of Sheffield

We presented on the SMS project in a panel session ‘School Food Histories: Emotions, Experience and the Sensory’ on Saturday 18th November 2023, 1-2:30pm.

Strand 1: The School Meals Service: Legislative and Policy Histories, Prof Gary McCulloch and Dr Laura Newman (UCL)

Strand 2: The School Meals Service: Oral Histories, Dr Heather Ellis and Dr Isabelle Carter (University of Sheffield)

Strand 3: The School Meals Service: What is the Role of Food in Schools?, Dr Gurpinder Lalli and Dr Ellen Bishop (University of Wolverhampton)

 29th November 2023 1-2pm UK time- University of Birmingham’s Geographies of Children, Young People and Education group, Invited Speaker: Dr Ellen Bishop

School Meals Service Project- What is the Role of Food in Schools? 

The School Meals Service (SMS) project, funded by the ESRC, aims to consider the aims, achievements and limitations of the SMS since its inception in 1906 and what can be learned from past and current lived experiences of the SMS for future provision. Strand 3 of the project, the focus of this presentation, specifically considers the current day experiences and provision of school meals and the place of food in schools. Data collection involved four partner schools in Bradford, London, Cardiff and Glasgow, consisting of ethnographic observations in school gardens, dining spaces and classrooms and ‘hanging out’ sessions designed to capture the informal conversations and social interactions of participants. This was in addition to conducting interviews with teachers, catering staff, pupils and parents to learn more about the school and place of food within it. This presentation will discuss the methodological approach to the research and some initial findings from the fieldwork conducted in strand 3 on the role of food in schools and the spatialities of school meals. 

2nd November 2023 5:30pm UK time- UCL ICHRE Seminar: Science, taste, and the development of school meals in World War Two Britain, Dr Laura Newman

Historians of the British school meals service (SMS) have spent much time probing the politicisation of the nutritional sciences at the Board of Education (BoE). They point to the selective uptake of experimental knowledge on vitamins and malnutrition by the BoE as evidence of institutional inertia, which in turn limited the effectiveness of the SMS in the fight against childhood hunger. This paper instead centres an underexplored scientific tool – that of taste – and the role it played in the development of school meals at both the BoE and beyond. It poses questions such as: how were the tastes of children both accommodated and marginalised by nutritional experts invested in the expansion of the SMS? What different kinds of methodologies were in place to explore the sensory preferences and needs of children during a much larger nationwide experiment in communal eating? By answering these and other questions, this paper proposes the need for multi-sensory histories of childhood feeding that recognise the complex iterations of children’s agency within different geographies of food and feeding.

Saturday 21st October 2023 2pm: ESRC Festival of Social Science ‘School Food Memories’, Burngreave Vestry Hall, 2 Burngreave Rd, Sheffield, S3 9DD

Spam fritters, corned beef hash, jam sponge with pink custard… what are your memories of school meals? The School Meals Project explores the impact of school meals in Britain, from 1906-present day. This event at Burngreave Vestry Hall gave attendees an opportunity to find out about the history of school meals, share their memories and even taste some classic school dinner foods!

Saturday 14th October 2023, BBC Radio Sheffield

Listen to Dr Heather Ellis and Dr Isabelle Carter speaking about the SMS project on BBC Radio Sheffield. Listen from 2:09:25- 2:12:34, 2:15:18- 2:28:56 (Must be signed into BBC account to listen, only available until 12/11/23)


Saturday 16th September 2023, 1-4pm, Zest Centre, Sheffield: ‘Memories of Childhood Food’ Event

The School Meals team worked with the Zest Centre, Welcoming Cultures, and Walkley Historians to create an event that celebrated and recorded Sheffield’s rich community heritage through food. Activities included sharing memories of school meals, contributing to a community recipe book, and mapping different food cultures across the world and arts and crafts. 

17th July 2023 – British Nutrition Foundation and Magic Breakfast

Invited speaker: Dr Gurpinder Singh Lalli discussed issues such as:

  • The role of breakfast in improving dietary quality and providing a nutritional safety net for children and young people
  • Breakfast provision in schools as part of the whole school food approach including the potential impact for children experiencing food insecurity
  • Ways to make breakfast clubs more inclusive
  • Measuring impact of school breakfast programmes on health, behaviour and learning 

29-30 June 2023 – BESA Conference

Keynote Speaker: Prof Gary McCulloch ‘The School Meals Service in a Changing Society: Aims, Achievements and Limitations’.


28 May 2023 – Child Food Poverty and Whole-Foodchain Organisation

FAWN, Dr Gurpinder Singh Lalli, Roundtable discussion on Children, Families and Food Security