- 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 £100,000 for a charity running school feeding projects in poverty-stricken communities
- Last week Argyll and Bute Council banned her from taking photos of food in the school canteen
- Ban was lifted 24 hours later following a storm of protest on social networks
By Liz Hull and Sara Malm
PUBLISHED: 19:42 EST, 22 June 2012 | UPDATED: 06:42 EST, 23 June 2012
Internet phenomenon Martha Payne, who counts Jamie Oliver, Raymond Blanc andScottish Education Secretary Mike Russell among her fans, has managed to raise £100,000 through her blog about her school dinners.
The nine-year-old schoolgirl first hit the headlines with her blog NeverSeconds about her measly school dinners but the real frenzy came after her council banned her from taking photos of her food as media coverage allegedly left catering staff fearing for their jobs.
The controversial ban led to a flood of complaints, Martha trended on Twitter and Argyll and Bute Council was inundated with angry calls and emails and eventually backtracked.
Although it only lasted 24 hours, the ban got enough worldwide attention to see thousands of donations flooding in to Martha's JustGiving site, which she set up to raise money for Mary's Meals, a charity which runs school feeding projects in communities around the world.
Good cause: Martha's blog, Never Seconds, has raised more than £60,000 since she first started it
Donations to the page have now hit £100,000, which will see about 9,400 children receive a daily meal.
Martha said:'This is totally awesome and will help so many hungry children.
'Mary's Meals is a very simple charity and it can achieve so much with so little as it costs just six pence to provide one meal.
'That meal can make a big difference. I've been told children receiving Mary's Meals have to walk two hours to get to their school every day - I couldn't walk that far every day.
Martha has already raised enough money to build a kitchen shelter and feed an entire school for a year at Lirangwe Primary School in Blantyre, Malawi, as part of Mary's Meals' Sponsor a School initiative.
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
The nine-year-old is planning to celebrate the £100,000 milestone with a 'porridge party' re-creating likuni phala, the porridge-like dish which her money will help feed the children of Malawi.
The family is also planning to visit Malawi later in the year where they will visit Lirangwe Primary School and put the finishing touches on the sign for the school kitchen - named "Friends of NeverSeconds" - that will be built by Mary's Meals.
Martha, who may also visit a class at the school and do a few lessons, has already received a message of thanks from pupils at Lirangwe Primary.
In recognition of the schoolgirl and her supporters, they wrote: 'Thank you Martha and Friends' on their blackboard and sang songs.
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
Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow, founder and chief executive of Mary's Meals, said he was humbled by the money raised through Martha's blog.
He said: 'This is incredible and I can't thank Martha and her supporters enough for everything they have done.
'As a result of their amazing beautiful acts of kindness, the lives of thousands of the world's poorest children will be transformed.
'Instead of being hungry and working for their next meal, these children receiving Mary's Meals will be sitting in a classroom with a full stomach, learning how to read and write.
'For every £10.70 donated, we are able to ensure another child will get a good daily meal for a whole school year and a brighter future.'
ONe of the young blogger's fans, celebrity chef Raymond Blanc added: 'The real triumph must be to have raised so much money for Mary's Meals, this charity which provides nutritious meals for seriously deprived areas of the world.'
The charity success 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.
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.'
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.
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.
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?’
Internet hit: Martha's fearless exposé of daily fare at her (unnamed) school prompted global discussion about shockingly unhealthy food being served
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’.
Martha's NeverSeconds blog has chalked up a million hits. She is supervised by her father David (left)
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