NeverSeconds blogger Martha Payne school dinner photo ban lifted

 
Photo of Martha's school lunch Martha gave this cheeseburger meal a health rating of 2/10

A controversial ban preventing a nine-year-old girl from photographing her school meals has been lifted following a storm of protest on the internet.

Martha Payne, from Argyll, has now recorded more than three million hits on her NeverSeconds blog.

Argyll and Bute Council said press coverage of the blog had led catering staff to fear for their jobs.

But council leader Roddy McCuish later told the BBC he had instructed senior officials to lift the ban immediately.

The schoolgirl's father, David Payne, who helped her set up the blog, welcomed the decision.

Martha began publishing photographs of her Lochgilphead Primary School lunches on 30 April.

Martha Payne's father, David: ''It (the ban) was disappointing''

She gave each meal a 'food-o-meter' and health rating, and counted the number of mouthfuls it took her to eat it.

She had been using the blog to raise money for the Mary's Meals charity.

But in a post published on Thursday evening, Martha said her headteacher told her not to take any more photographs for the blog.

Under the headline "Goodbye", the post stated: "This morning in maths I got taken out of class by my head teacher and taken to her office.

Charity blog

"I was told that I could not take any more photos of my school dinners because of a headline in a newspaper today."

The council's decision to impose the ban came after the Daily Record newspaper published a photograph of Martha alongside chef Nick Nairn under the headline "Time to fire the dinner ladies."

Martha Payne Martha's NeverSeconds blog started as a writing project with her dad

Speaking on BBC Radio's Good Morning Scotland programme Mr Payne said his daughter was not happy about the council's decision.

He added: "I understand that it's brought pressure from around the world and media interest, but that is really out of our control.

"But we are very supportive of the school - the fact that she has been encouraged to blog and she got permission to do this is testament to them.

"Everyone in the kitchens has been wonderful to Martha and she enjoys going into lunch every day."

By Friday morning, the council's decision had sparked a furious reaction on social media.

Local MSP Mike Russell, Scotland's education secretary, tweeted he would be writing to the council's chief executive in his capacity as local MSP, calling for the "daft" ban to be overturned.

Job fears

Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver tweeted: "Stay strong Martha" before urging his 2.3 million followers to retweet the message.

Argyll and Bute Council later issued a statement defending its position and claimed media coverage of the blog had led catering staff to fear for their jobs.

It added: "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.

Council leader Roddy McCuish: ''The last thing we want to do is to persecute a nine-year-old girl''

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

Cleland Sneddon, the executive director of community services at Argyll and Bute Council, told the BBC that school catering staff had been left "in tears" by press coverage.

However, Mr McCuish later told the BBC Radio 4's World at One programme that he had instructed senior officials to lift the ban immediately.

He said: "It is a good thing to do, to change your mind, and I have certainly done that."

Mr McCuish said he had not yet been able to inform Martha of the lifting of the photo ban, but had a meeting arranged with her father next Thursday to discuss "a way forward".

'Dinner summit'

In a BBC interview Martha's father said he was really pleased for his daughter that ban had been lifted.

Start Quote

Martha has now raised enough money to build a kitchen in Malawi for children receiving Mary's Meals ”

End Quote Spokesman Mary's Meals

He added: "She will look forward to being able to take her photographs of her food and writing about it as she has done so far."

Publicity caused by the ban helped the schoolgirl smash through her £7,000 fundraising target for the Mary's Meals charity - with total pledges of more than £30,000 being made by Friday afternoon.

The total stood at only about £2,000 on Thursday evening.

A Mary's Meals spokesman said: "We are overwhelmed by the huge response to her efforts today which has led to so many more people donating to her online donation page.

"Thanks to this fantastic support, Martha has now raised enough money to build a kitchen in Malawi for children receiving Mary's Meals as part of our Sponsor A School initiative and has broken the record for hitting a Sponsor A School online fundraising target in the quickest amount of time".

Among the pictures Martha published on her blog was one featuring her £2 lunch of a pizza slice, a croquette, sweetcorn and a cupcake.

Martha wrote: "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?"

 

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