- Martha Payne started the NeverSeconds blog six weeks ago
- Uses it to post images and opinions about what she had been served for lunch at her school’s cafeteria in Lochgilphead, Argyll
- Blog has also raised more than £60,000 for a charity supporting impoverished children around the world
- Argyll and Bute Council told her to stop taking photos of food in the school canteen
- But controversial ban was lifted following a storm of protest on the internet
By Liz Hull and Charles Walford
PUBLISHED: 05:45 EST, 20 June 2012 | UPDATED: 05:54 EST, 20 June 2012
It is a campaign that has garnered global interest and provoked anger at her local council.
Now nine-year-old Martha Payne's efforts to highlight the poor standard of food in her school have found celebrity support.
She is teaming up with celebrity chef Nick Nairn to help the council provide more nutritious meals at her school, Lochgilphead Primary in Argyll.
Martha's father, Dave Payne, wrote in an email to today.com: 'Nick has been involved in promoting healthy food for many years.
'Martha enjoyed meeting him as did I and his knowledge and enthusiasm are invigorating.'
Good cause: Martha's blog, Never Seconds, has raised more than £60,000 since she first started it
The only offer Martha and her father have accepted is working with Nairn to improve the school¿s food
Martha first hit the headlines after she began her 'NeverSeconds' blog, posting pictures of her miserable school dinners online.
The project has already helped generate more than £60,000 in donations to help feed impoverished children around the world.
Martha's father told The Telegraph that they have received a number of offers to appear on TV shows around the world and approached by Hollywood about book, television and film deals.
However, the only arrangement they have accepted is working with Nairn to improve the school’s food choices.
The celebrity intervention comes less than a week after officials at Argyll and Bute council ordered teachers to stop her from photographing her dinners and rating them online.
In a post headed ‘Goodbye,’ she wrote: ‘This morning in maths I got taken out of class by my head teacher and taken to her office.
‘I was told that I could not take any more photos of my school dinners.’
But the officials seriously underestimated the youngster’s internet following and thousands of people, led by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, took to Twitter to criticise their decision, leading to a humiliating U-turn by the council.
Within hours of Oliver tweeting to Martha to ‘stay strong’ and urging his 2.3million followers to re-post his message, the schoolgirl’s blog became one of the top subjects discussed on the site worldwide.
Critics lined up to accuse the council of ‘bullying’ Martha by trying to ‘silence her freedom of expression’ and thousands signed a petition to get them to overturn the ban.
And now Nairn has stepped in to offer his support. His restaurant Braeval won a Michelin star in 1991, making him the youngest Scottish chef to win a star
He went on to cook a main course of Roe venison for Queen Elizabeth II and 250 guests at the Mansion House for her official 80th birthday celebration.
He will also be known to many as a regular chef on Ready Steady Cook.
Mega-bite: The schoolgirl posted a photograph of one pathetic offering online as part of a writing project she and her father started
Back for more: The council had tried to shut the blog down before a Twitter bakclash forced a U-turn
Supporters inundated council phonelines with complaints and also pledged thousands of pounds to the Third World children’s charity linked to Martha’s blog, smashing her £7,000 target.
Donations, from supporters all over the world, including Canada, Germany, America, New Zealand and Australia, now stand at £61,519.07.
A school kitchen will now be built in Malawi as the result of her fundraising efforts, and she has already come up with a name for it.
'She decided on 'Friends of NeverSeconds' to reflect all the generous donations,' her father added.
Argyll-based Mary’s Meals, the charity supported by Martha’s blog, revealed she had raised enough to build several kitchens for starving children in Malawi.
The charity said: ‘Martha’s support for Mary’s Meals has been amazing and we are extremely grateful for everything that she has done to help us reach some of the hungriest children in the world.’
Food for thought: Martha posted this picture on an internet blog and began to add daily snaps of her lunches, rating and commenting on them
Grim grub: Martha's photos of her school dinner has turned her into an overnight internet sensation
Martha's miserable school dinners look set to spark an outcry over nutrition for the nation's children
The decision also angered Scottish Education Secretary Mike Russell, whose intervention forced the council to perform a U-turn.
Council leader Roddy McCuish announced they would be withdrawing the ban with immediate effect. He said: ‘It’s a good thing to do, to change your mind, and I’ve certainly done that.’
Martha’s father, Dave Payne, 39, said common sense had prevailed. ‘Martha is beaming,’ he said. ‘She came home from school with a big smile on her face.
‘She is delighted she can carry on blogging, but more so about the money being raised for the charity. People have been very, very generous. The way the world reacted to the ban is very revealing, it’s just fantastic that common sense has prevailed.’
The saga began seven weeks ago when Martha, with permission from teachers at Lochgilphead Primary School, started taking pictures of her £2 school dinners and commenting on them as part of a writing project.
Victory! Martha Payne, 9, and her father David were all smiles after the council's decision to make a u-turn on banning her food blog
MARTHA'S BLOG OBSERVATIONS
- 'Some people have been asking why I have a plastic spoon for dessert. I don't know but I will ask because we just throw it away everyday. We don't recycle them.'
- 'My sister and I were a bit nervous that we would get into trouble asking for fruit with our lunch today so Dad printed off an email from the council and my sister put it in her school bag. I had to ask for fruit and they were unsure but when they checked it was ok.'
- 'As we lined up for lunch we were officially told that we are all allowed as much salad, fruit and bread as we want and that we had always been able to.....well my friends and I never knew that. It must have been a well kept secret.'
- 'Today the menu ordering system was so confusing it went wrong. I ordered an enchilada but I got a sausage and bean pitta pocket.'
- 'The mince pasta was the same as spaghetti bolognese but with different shaped pasta and more sweetcorn than last time. I dont know why they call it mince pasta and not just spagbol!
- 'I'm a growing kid and I need to concentrate all afternoon and I cant do it on 1 croquette. Do any of you think you could?'
- 'The good thing about this blog is Dad understands why I am hungry when I get home.'
Because Martha’s home is on the west coast of Scotland, however, standards for school meals differ and widespread improvements in the rest of Britain appear not to have been applied.
Her first post included a photo of a measly slice of pizza and a lonely potato croquette, alongside a sprinkling of sweetcorn, a cupcake for dessert and a lot of empty space.
Alongside the photo, the schoolgirl wrote: ‘The pizza in the first pic was alright but I’d have enjoyed more than one croquette. I’m a growing kid and I need to concentrate all afternoon and I can’t do it on one croquette. Do any of you think you could?’
Beside a photograph of a limp looking cheeseburger, two potato croquets, a few rings of cucumber and a rocket ice lolly, Martha wrote: ‘Today’s meal was on the menu as Cheeseburger and ice cream/biscuit but as you can see I got an ice lolly. I prefer ice cream. I wish they had stuck to the menu.’
Over the next two months her daily snaps gathered an impressive following, with more than two million people throughout the world logging on and sending in their own pictures for her site.
After seeing the photographs, Oliver, a veteran school food campaigner, sent a tweet to her father, which read: ‘Shocking but inspirational blog. Keep going. Big love from Jamie x.’
Martha later posted that the celebrity chef had sent her a copy of his Jamie’s Great Britain cookbook in which he wrote: ‘Dear Martha, great work!!! Clever girl. Lots of love. Jamie O. XXX Keep it up!!’
But last week, Martha, whose mother is a GP, revealed that teachers wanted her to stop taking the photographs. The council said the decision was made after an article published in a tabloid newspaper, under the headline ‘Time to fire the dinner ladies’, left some members of staff at the school in tears.
In an ill-judged 500-plus word statement, they accused Martha’s blog of being ‘misleading’ and attacked her father for refusing to put an end to it.
Mr Payne, who runs a smallholding, correctly predicted the move was an ‘own goal’ which would serve only to generate more criticism because ‘the pictures tell the story about how good the food is’.
Internet hit: Martha's fearless exposé of daily fare at her (unnamed) school prompted global discussion about shockingly unhealthy food being served
Martha's NeverSeconds blog has chalked up a million hits. She is supervised by her father David (left)
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