Using web data to see how the UK answered Marcus Rashford’s call to “end child food poverty”

[UPDATE: Over the weekend Marcus Rashford continued to use his Twitter account to share announcements from local businesses offering to provide free meals for children over October half term.  As of Monday morning he has shared announcements from over 400+ businesses.]

Over the summer Marcus Rashford, the England and Manchester United football player, led a food poverty campaign so effective that it forced an embarrassing policy u-turn from Boris Johnson.  The England international wrote a moving open-letter to all MPs in Parliament that spoke about his own experience growing up dependent on free school meals and he urged ministers to extend the free school meals scheme, which provides food for 1.3m children during term time, through the summer break while pandemic restrictions remained in place.  The government had not been planning such an extension but facing mounting pressure from the opposition, the media and even their own backbenchers, a last minute change of direction was made and the government agreed to release £120m to fund the scheme.  

This week, schools were out for half-term in England again and on Wednesday there was an Opposition Day Debate in the UK Parliament to discuss the continued provision of free school meals during school holidays for the rest of the year and into 2021.  (The Scottish and Welsh governments have already put in place funding for extensions into 2021 for Scotland and Wales.)  The Conservative government directed their MPs to oppose the extension and so the proposal was defeated by a vote in Parliament on Wednesday.  

Rashford reacted to the defeat by vowing not to give up his campaign.  And so, on Thursday evening he began tweeting

Marcus Rashford began tweeting

Over the next 24 hours he turned his Twitter account into a directory of all the restaurants, cafes and communities around the country who had announced that they would feed the UK’s poor children for free.  He listed over 170 organizations and 40 local authorities who made this pledge, finding their names from Twitter, Facebook, letters, press releases and many other sources.  Rashford took screenshots of the announcements and then shared those screenshots on Twitter with a pin icon (📍) and the name of the town in which the organization was based. 

Rashford took screenshots of the announcements

The web data story

I pulled the hundreds of Tweets that Rashford posted over the last day, for every Tweet that included a pin, I extracted the location name and geocoded it to get latitude and longitude coordinates that I could plot on a map.  I varied the map marker sizes and colors based on the number of retweets and likes that Rashford got for each organizational announcement that he shared.  

Only 20 announcements shared by London organizations

Organizations in the North West of England were the first to make announcements that Rashford shared and these announcements were the most liked and the most retweeted.  Only 20 organizations in the London area made announcements that Rashford shared, compared with 150 organizations in other parts of the country. 

Only 20 announcements shared by London organizations

High intensity interval training

When not sleeping or playing for Manchester United, Marcus Rashford averaged 14 tweets per hour (1 tweet every 4 minutes) sharing announcements from local businesses volunteering to feed children over the school break.  Notice that periods of high intensity tweeting were followed by lower intensity periods and he ended each day with a high intense period of tweeting.  Looks like the pattern of exertion that you would expect to see during a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) session. (You can tell he’s a professional athlete!)

Explore the data yourself

You can explore the data for yourself at the link below.!/vizhome/MarcusRashford/MarcusRashfordsfreeschoolmeals?publish=yes

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