Student Fiona, 18, from the London Borough of Newham, has just finished her A-levels, having been offered a place at Oxford University to study English Literature this autumn. She is the first person in her school ever to be offered a place at Oxford to read English Literature, and the second girl from her school to be offered a place at Oxford.

Originally from Kosovo, Fiona’s parents moved to the UK in the 1990s to escape the war. When Fiona was a child her dad, a carpenter, always did manual work, often on a low income, to help keep the family afloat. Her mum, who is an artist, wasn’t able to work full time, so there was never much money to go around. In addition to looking after the children, Fiona’s parents would also send money back to family in Kosovo.

The family lived in a small two-bed flat in Tower Hamlets, and Fiona shared a bedroom with her two sisters.

Fiona attended Cyril Jackson Primary School in Tower Hamlets, a Magic Breakfast partner school, where she and her sisters were able to have a free Magic Breakfast each day when they wanted it.

“Dinner at home the night before wasn’t always very substantial, so I found it really helpful to be able to have something to eat in the morning at school. As a kid, having breakfast at school almost felt ceremonial. The great thing was everyone could have it, which helped normalise it – you weren’t pulled aside to go or made to feel like the odd one out, it was always really inviting.”

“Sometimes, my school would give my sisters and me extra bagels to take home for dinner for the family too. The school was always so warm to us, I left with such a positive impression of it.”

“On the days when I didn’t have much to eat I’d stay at the back of the class, not socialise and would feel quite vulnerable. I used to be quite skinny and I’d get tired quite quickly, especially after PE or swimming lessons, which my primary school helped me access for free. Quite a few of my classmates were in the same position of not having much to eat either, so we used to talk about what we’d like to have to eat that day – it was an experience we bonded over.”

“I didn’t recognise at the time that being able to have free breakfast at school had such an impact on me, it’s only now I’m older and I look back that I can see it what a difference it made. Without it I wouldn’t have had the fuel to focus in class and learn as much as I did. Ultimately, I might not be where I am today.”

“I still think of having breakfast as a treat, but I do have it on important days like before an exam. Most of my exams took place during Ramadan, which makes eating beforehand tricky, but I’ll try to have something healthy like porridge, a banana or mixed nuts for breakfast, which give slow-release energy. If I don’t eat anything I’ll be really sluggish and I won’t have enough fuel to power my brain and do as well as I need to.”

“I think having healthy food is linked to mental health and wellbeing too – it’s like a reward you give yourself. When you don’t eat you’ll be physically weak and tired, which leaves you feeling undeserving of having a full meal. So it’s a vicious cycle. Eating healthily boosts your mental state as well as physical health.”

“After my free school meals ended, I always felt guilty asking my parents for lunch money. Now I work and earn my own money, it feels amazing to be self-sustaining.”

In addition to her studies, Fiona is an English tutor, writes poetry, has published two children’s books (Under the Sea and The Seven-League Boots) and articles affiliated with the UN sustainable development goals and human rights. She also works as a regional ambassador for the Holocaust Educational Trust.

Fiona received offers from all the universities she applied to, including St Andrews which is her back-up option. She is now eagerly awaiting her A-level results and is predicted to get three A*s in English, History and Religious Education, which would secure her place at Oxford for which she needs three A’s. She will be in Kosovo visiting family on results day in August, so will be emailed her final marks.

“I’m very excited for university, particularly independent living, formals, and of course the dinners! I plan to join lots of societies and generally be as creative as possible.”

“For me, success looks like lots of things. After University I might to do a Masters, PhD, and become an academic, or maybe an MA in Politics and work for the UN, or I might continue writing books, go into publishing, or become a journalist. Whatever route I choose I’ll make sure I keep nourishing myself with healthy food to make sure I’m the best I can be.”

Pupils like Fiona need Fuel For Success. Help fund breakfasts for hungry schoolchildren in the UK, so, like Fiona, they have the fuel to succeed in and out of the classroom.

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