A nine-year-old girl in Scotland has been ordered to abandon NeverSeconds, her wildly popular blog, which features photos and commentary of the food served in her school. The blog began as a writing exercise undertaken with school permission, and was an implicit critique of the nutritional value and quality of the food. Over time, its proprietress Martha Payne branched out into raising money for school meals in east Africa. She became a minor celeb, with coverage in newspapers and blogs, and attention from celebrity chef and school food campaigner Jamie Oliver. Yesterday, she published a post called "Goodbye," in which she explains that she has been ordered to cease blogging by the headteacher, and expresses sorrow that she won't be able to continue her project. Her father clarifies that the shutdown order came from the local Argyll and Bute town council.
Here's what Payne wrote, followed by some words from her dad:
This morning in maths I got taken out of class by my head teacher and taken to her office. I was told that I could not take any more photos of my school dinners because of a headline in a newspaper today.
I only write my blog not newspapers and I am sad I am no longer allowed to take photos. I will miss sharing and rating my school dinners and I’ll miss seeing the dinners you send me too. I don’t think I will be able to finish raising enough money for a kitchen for Mary’s Meals either.
Veg’s Dad, Dave, here. I felt it’s important to add a few bits of info to the blog tonight. Martha’s school have been brilliant and supportive from the beginning and I’d like to thank them all. I contacted Argyll and Bute Council when Martha told me what happened at school today and they told me it was their decision to ban Martha’s photography.
It is a shame that a blog that today went through 2 million hits, which has inspired debates at home and abroad and raised nearly £2000 for charity is forced to end.
Payne's blog inspired correspondents from schools around the world to write in with their own photos, and was a burgeoning nexus of a real community of interest among children. It's a terrible, stupid thing that Argyll and Bute council did.
Update: The Argyll and Bute council have rescinded the ban. The Guardian's Peter Walker reports:
Roddy McCuish, the council leader, told BBC Radio 4 that he had ordered an immediate reverse of the ban, imposed earlier this week. He said: "There's no place for censorship in Argyll and Bute council and there never has been and there never will be.
"I've just instructed senior officials to immediately withdraw the ban on pictures from the school dining hall. It's a good thing to do, to change your mind, and I've certainly done that."
It marks a complete reverse of the council's position earlier this morning, when a statement directly attacked the NeverSeconds blog, set up by Martha just six weeks before as a writing project, for "unwarranted attacks on its schools catering service which culminated in national press headlines which have led catering staff to fear for their jobs".
The statement added: "The council has directly avoided any criticism of anyone involved in the NeverSeconds blog for obvious reasons, despite a strongly held view that the information presented in it misrepresented the options and choices available to pupils. However, this escalation means we had to act to protect staff from the distress and harm it was causing."
Payne's supporters have been tweeting photos of their food in solidarity with young Ms Payne, using the #mylunchformartha tag.