IT’S 11.30am on a busy weekday at Westfield Primary School in Acomb.

The first group of children have just broken for lunch, and suddenly the dining hall has filled with a chattering, excited crowd.

The children claim places at their favourite tables and then begin to form orderly queues at the serving hatch.

Among the choices on the menu today is a healthy pasta with tomato sauce and meatballs, accompanied by fresh peas and sweetcorn and a hunk of brown bread.

York Press: Children queueing for their lunch at Westfield Primary SchoolChildren queueing for their lunch at Westfield Primary School (Image: Stephen Lewis)

It’s one of four main course options today – but 10-year-old Daniel Hagyard admits the pasta is his favourite.

Jackson Bower prefers the pizza – but they’re all good, he says. He now looks forward to his school lunches – and he definitely feels better for it in the afternoon. “I have more energy!”

Today's first sitting is the first of six over the next hour and three quarters. It's hard work for catering manager Sarah Hardgrave and her staff - but seeing the children's faces makes it all worth while, she said. "Especially when they come up and say 'that was lovely!'"

York Press: Westfield Primary catering manager Sarah Hardgrave serving lunchWestfield Primary catering manager Sarah Hardgrave serving lunch (Image: Stephen Lewis)

Since the start of term, all the children at Westfield – York’s biggest primary school – have been getting a free hot meal at lunchtime, thanks to the York Hungry Minds appeal.

Launched late last year following a Labour election pledge, the aim of the appeal is to raise enough money to be able to extend free lunches like this to children in other York primary schools.

The city council put up the first £100,000 to allow the free lunches to be piloted for a year here at Westfield, to see what impact they have on children’s health and learning.

More than £40,000 has already been raised on top of that – thanks in part to a hefty donation from York-based Persimmon – to enable a similar pilot at Burton Green School, where children will get a free breakfast for a year.

But the hope is that, if the money keeps coming in, more children at more schools will be able to benefit.

York Press: Tim Hagyard with his son Daniel, left; and, right, Jessica Stone with her son JacksonTim Hagyard with his son Daniel, left; and, right, Jessica Stone with her son Jackson (Image: Stephen Lewis)

Daniel’s dad Tim thinks it’s a great idea.

“We’re very lucky. We have family meals whenever we can,” he said. “But knowing that Daniel’s got this option to have a hot meal in school, especially when things are more expensive, has made a big difference. He’s got more energy, he’s more attentive in class, he’s more engaged.

“We’ve seen the difference at home. He’s not as tired of an afternoon. He’s coming home, he’s telling us about what he’s done during the day, and he’s always raving about the food at school, and asking if we can recreate it at home.”

It is a programme that is certainly worth expanding, he says. “Children are more engaged, more attentive they’ve got a lot more energy. And that benefits their learning, it benefits the teachers, and we’ve got better behaviour in and outside of school. It’s a project that can have massive benefit.”

Jackson’s mum Jessica Stone agrees. Quite apart from the benefits for Jackson himself, she says, scheme such as this also make a huge difference to struggling families.

“As a family, it takes the pressure off being able to give them a hot meal on a night,” she said. “It also helps with bills, because we’re not having to provide food for pack-ups, or to pay for school meals.”

York Press: Jessica Stone with her son DanielJessica Stone with her son Daniel (Image: Stephen Lewis)

Westfield was chosen for the initial pilot not only because it is York’s biggest primary school but also because levels of deprivation in this part of York mean a lot of families here are struggling.

Children in the first two years at the school already got free lunches under a nationwide programme.

York Hungry minds means that now, older children get to enjoy them, too.

The challenge now is to expand that to other schools.

Cllr Bob Webb, the executive member for education at City of York Council, said: “I’m supremely pleased that we’ve been able to start.

“But this is a pilot, and we want to expand it further. In order to do that we need to mobilise the city through the York Hungry Minds appeal.

“We’ve made a contribution as a council. But money is tight. So we’re looking for businesses, we’re looking for individuals, we’re looking for parents, we’re looking for families – anybody who wants to support this idea and spread it more widely across the city of York.”

You can donate to the York Hungry Minds appeal here