Heinz has teamed up with Barnardos to support their work with children and families across Ireland, by giving its iconic Beanz packaging a makeover for a second time. Available now from major retailers such as Tesco, Dunnes and SuperValu and Aldi, for every ‘Heinz Meanz Mealz’ pack sold, Heinz will be making a donation to Barnardos Breakfast Clubs. Mum of three, TV presenter and podcaster Vogue Williams talks about her role as brand ambassador for the campaign.
Tell us about the Heinz X Barnardo’s campaign. What made you want to get involved?
I was delighted to meet the team that work hard every day to help families in need, but at the same time, saddened to understand the sheer number of families in need of that support.
I can’t imagine the fear families living in food poverty must be going through.
No one should be unsure when or where their next meal is coming from, especially children.
Working with Heinz and Barnardos, together, we hope to not only raise awareness of the food poverty issue in Ireland, but make people aware that a small, tangible act - such as buying a special ‘Heinz Meanz Mealz’ three-pack of Beanz - can have a big impact and help support those most vulnerable in the community.
Heinz’s latest survey unveiled that more than half of Irish families (51.2%) are experiencing food poverty and having to skip meals. The figure for Leinster, where you are from, is slightly higher. Was food poverty ever an issue for you or for people you knew growing up?
Even though I didn’t directly experience food poverty, my mum was a single parent raising three children for a long time, which is no mean feat. We knew poverty existed in our community but not to the scale it is today. And hearing that home is above average has obviously struck a chord.
Was your deep sense of community instilled in you by those around you (friends, family)?
Absolutely! I am very close to my family. My sister and my brothers are my best friends, but you know what, it wasn’t my immediate family who supported us growing up.
Our neighbours and the community that we had round us were integral to our upbringing and a huge influence.
Everyone would help each other out. We were and always will be very close.
We’d have kids over all the time, playing or having dinner, my siblings and I would often be round theirs too.
I grew up around that sense of supporting people and that feeds into the work I do now.
It made me much more aware of other people’s circumstances, I’ve always felt we need to use what we have to help others, especially if you’re in a position where you can.
You’re now a mum yourself, how has motherhood changed you? Have your own experiences shaped how you will raise your children?
When becoming a first-time mum, I needed to lean on other people to help me through those incredibly challenging first few months - I was lucky that I had a lot of support around me.
I think about the parents that don’t have that, or don’t have access to it. It’s incredible how many things a tiny human need and how much it all costs.
But sadly, not everybody has the money, means or support.
Becoming a mum unlocked a new level of empathy, love and compassion for others. I want my children to always appreciate our good fortune and understand we have a responsibility to help others – just like my family and others in my community did when I was a child.
In your new role as ambassador for this partnership, what struggles have you learned about that parents are facing in Ireland?
I knew times were tough for many, but I honestly didn’t understand the true extent of it.
Heinz’s latest research showed that 87% of families are having to reduce their portion sizes to stretch their shopping further and a further 85 per cent have had to cut back or remove altogether nutritionally rich foods such as meat (32%), fish (24%) and dairy (12%) in a bid to reduce their shopping bill.
For the children in these households, lack of food and nutrients is not only leaving them hungry, but at risk of experiencing other developmental issues in areas such as physical health, mental health, education and social wellbeing.
Do you believe there is still a stigma around asking for help and using support services, such as Barnardos?
When I was growing up, there was a lot of stigma about asking for help or reaching out to a charity, but from speaking to Barnardos, they are finding as time goes on that this is changing. Last year, 21% of children and families in Barnardos targeted services referred themselves.
I’ve learnt that a big part of Barnardos own strategy is to remove the stigma or any barriers to asking for help and making people more aware of all the services they provide to help children and parents, so that when they need help they are there for them. So people can be the driver of their own change.
I really hope that a knock-on effect of this campaign is that those in need realise it’s ok to ask for help and to do so straight away!
You have 1 million followers on Instagram, with many of them being parents. Do you believe that social media has provided a platform for parents to seek information or ask for help? Have you received many messages from parents speaking about their struggles?
Social media has given people who are struggling a forum to either seek information, share their experience or ask for help.
I’ve spoken about my own struggles on social media, which has not only resonated with others but has encouraged people to message me about their own.
For issues such as this, social media can be such a vehicle for good and an important tool to help push the message forward.
Not only can it help let people know they aren’t alone, but it can also reach people far and wide who may be able to support and donate. It doesn’t have to be on your doorstep before you act.
As the summer holidays draw to a close, more than a million Irish children will be going back to school in the coming weeks. For families experiencing food uncertainty, what will the knock-on effect be for children? Do you think the government could support schools more in terms of providing meals for vulnerable children?
Food and good nutrition not only feeds and fuels bodies, but our minds.
We know the knock-on effect of children going to school hungry is that they are less likely to learn and to finish school.
Living in a state of consistent poverty grinds and wears children out, and the stress it must put on children as well as parents is immeasurable.
I’d like to see the Government have some sort of agreement with schools or a support network, such as Barnardos, to ensure children have access to food not just during school hours, but outside. I’m no expert, but surely this can’t go on?
Your eldest son, Theodore, will be starting school for the first time this year. How are you feeling about it? How is he feeling about it? Are you nervous? Excited? Any concerns?
He can’t wait – he’s so excited! When the time comes, he might be a little nervous, but he’s super confident, so I don’t feel that I need to worry about him. He knows that we will be here for him no matter what.
School is such an amazing time for most kids and I think he's really going to enjoy himself. I'm just excited for him to get started, I can't believe he's actually starting school – he’s still my baby!
I think he's going to really love it and he's going to make lots of nice new friends and he's going to just enjoy himself.
Like most working parents, life is a constant juggle. How do you balance such a varied schedule? What else are you working on at the moment?
I’m very, very organised to the point of it being annoying. I’m the type of person who packs two weeks before a holiday. It has to be done as I hate putting myself under any unnecessary stress.
Work is busy! Spenny and I have our tour coming up and I am also launching my own fitness app so keep an eye on my socials for further updates, but it is coming soon!