Free school meals are on the rise 

By Courtney Stevens

The percentage of pupils eligible for free school meals has increased by nearly 10 per cent since the January 2015/16 school year. 

The pandemic has seen a sharp rise in those eligible for free school meals as parents have struggled with losing income due to not working.  

In England, all school pupils in reception, year one and year two in state schools can get a free school meal. 

Children who are older and not in those year groups may also be eligible for free school meals if they fit a certain criteria ie parents claim benefits or they earn less than £7,400 a year. 

The graph below shows the percentage of pupils eligible for free school meals in January of each year in state funded schools for all ages: 

In January 2018/19 15.4 per cent of pupils were eligible for free school meals before the pandemic but this has risen to 22.5 per cent of pupils in January 2021/22 after the pandemic.

This steep increase could be explained by parents being out of work due to the pandemic who are therefore on lower incomes than they would have been before.  

Before the pandemic, the difference in pupils on free school meals was small between January 2015/16 and January 2018/19.

There were increases and decreases in the number but the percentage stayed around 15 per cent for those three years, suggesting parents were earning a similar amount of money each year. 

However, in the years between January 2018/19 and January 2021/22, the number of pupils on free school meals rose more than the previous three years, highlighting how more children are living in low income families than before.  

The pressures on parents to have enough money to feed their children whilst also having enough money to pay for bills and other necessary expenses has led to them relying more on free school meals. 

The government scheme for free school meals has become increasingly more important and is something that families cannot afford to lose.  

Students discuss their experiences with antidepressants and deduce the stigma surrounding dependency and reliance 

By Kelly Gowe

The prevalence of antidepressant prescription is astounding with 70 million prescriptions written last year for the 7 million adults who used them.  

It is time to take a more nuanced approach: Antidepressants can be lifesaving for some people while having no effect on others.  

But who are we to say that someone is wrong if they see it as a last resort or something to make them feel better? The stigma must be lifted. 

I interviewed two students about their university experiences with SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) to see how the medication affected their lives. 

Valuable: Abubakr Razak (left) and Heebah Hussain found antidepressants helped them

Abubakr Razak, 19, began taking SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) while studying law.  

He had struggled with anxiety and depression throughout college, which led him to being prescribed an SSRI called Sertraline. 

“I often had anxiety in social situations,” he said. “But very traumatic situations as a child eventually built up to this. My SSRIs were paired with talking therapy, which helped massively.” 

He said they made him feel “level” throughout university and found dealing with difficulties a lot easier. 

Heebah Hussain, 18, said: “I’d encourage anyone in a dark place to think ‘If I were really physically unwell, would I take medicine to help me feel better?’” 

Unfortunately, many people are still reluctant to take medication for their mental health because society has often portrayed it as a sign of failure.  

In fact, making such a decision for yourself is a sign of strength. There is nothing to be ashamed of if you require some additional assistance. 

So, even if you are aware of the risks, your only option is to take it or leave it; our mental health system lacks ambition. 

If you are a student who is struggling, I strongly advise you to reach out to others, even if it is just one person.  

If you know a loved one who is struggling, you can  find out more about how to help here

You can contact the Mind helpline by calling 0300 123 3393.  

Leicester’s Christmas Lights Switch-On set to take place today

By Azim Saiyed

Tonight (THURS,Nov17) marks the official start of the festive season in Leicester as streets will be lit up at 6.30pm.

The key places to be illuminated will be the Town Hall and the Clock Tower with over 16,000 led lights.

A large Christmas tree at the Clock Tower will be displayed with twinkling lights and baubles.

Visitors are advised to park in Highcross Shopping Centre and walk to the events to avoid traffic congestion.

There will be food, films and music at the Green Dragon Square whilst costume characters entertain in the streets.

For more information, visit: www.visitleicester.info/whats-on/christmas-lights-switch-on.

TV Priest live at Firebug, Leicester: a raw, orchestral post-punk trip

Review by Shaikha Rahimi

Gone are the days where rock gigs are only about hair whipping and top-of-the-lungs screaming. From chest patting to the lyrics to swinging the microphone stand across the stage, Charlie Drinkwater draws a line between the audience and the band through emotion. And, above all, by being quintessentially TV Priest.

TV Priest’s debut album showcased who they are as a band as well as their versatility, and their second album hammered down their sound. Uppers was an unapologetic political statement and the predeceasing album seems to have traces of that, too. The earsplitting guitars and drums combined with Drinkwater’s vulnerable and honest lyricism created juxtaposition like no other.

Drinkwater, whose artistry is not limited to music, was profoundly immersed in the lyricism throughout the show. He did not stop at satisfying the audience’s ears; he brought the visuals into it. His stage presence is theatrical in a sense, and he almost innately feels the urge to act out his lyrics. “Life only comes in flashes of greatness,” he exclaimed, with his hands over his head. 

TV Priest on stage at Firebug. Image by Shaikha Rahimi.

One Easy Thing, one of TV Priest’s most known tracks, had to make it to the setlist, and the band’s ability to immerse the audience into the lyricism shone through once again as Drinkwater said: “And when you used to laugh, rooms used to open for you .. like a mother weeping.” 

He does it once again as he repeatedly patted his chest while building up the crescendo: “I need to sleep, so very, very deeply. But I am on the call, and I am waiting.” This moment was the highlight of the night. TV Priest put on a show that is well-rounded and strikes a balance between theatrical elements and rock music. I would not have been surprised to see curtains closing the show. 

With the size of Firebug’s venue in mind, it already felt like an intimate gig. But Drinkwater took the artist-fan interaction up a notch by sitting at the edge of the stage during Limehouse Cut, one of the many profound moments during the show. Contrary to the studio version of the track where Drinkwater’s vocals are low-pitched and sonorous, he howled and quavered: “Won’t you follow, follow me?” into the crowd without a microphone. Drinkwater is certainly au fait with sustaining fan interactions. “You can find us around our merch stall after the show selling T-shirts to pay for petrol,” he said mid-show. It seems transparency is not limited to his lyricism.

For the audience, this is a rollercoaster with consistent highs and no lows. It encapsulates meaningful lyricism, with zestful stage presence, and timeless sound. Drinkwater’s commitment to the vulnerability of his lyricism carried the audience through a plethora of emotions. He was clearly submerged in the guitar, bass, and drums. You could just see it in his face, and you cannot help but surrender to the intensity of their marvellous crescendos. Nothing held TV Priest back. This show was incised with energy, sensational vocals, and unparalleled stage presence.

The support act were London-based alternative-rock band Modern Woman. Their music is hard to label and is mysterious in its intent: post-folk-meets-art-rock. The layered instrumental excellence of the violin – yes, a violin – and the electric guitar with the rhythmic cymbals created a goosebump-inducing sound.

But it was TV Priest’s night: a show that felt like a raw, orchestral post-punk trip that gave the audience a thrilling adventure that was all about screeching guitars, pounding drums, and authenticity.

TV Priest’s current European tour takes in France, Belgium and Switzerland and concludes in Köln, Germany on Friday, November 25. Buy tickets at https://www.tvpriest.com.

TV Priest to play Leicester show

By Shaikha Rahimi

The post-punk band will play in Leicester’s Firebug at 8pm tonight.

London-based rock band TV Priest will play Leicester’s Firebug Bar tonight. The post-punk band are touring in support of their second studio album My Other People.

TV Priest are best known for being signed by Sub Pop Records, a Seattle-based record label that achieved fame for signing central players in the grunge movement such as Nirvana, Mudhoney, and Soundgarden.

Frontman Drinkwater said the band enjoys travelling to refine the sense of community while playing shows for their fans. “We’re lucky to be out doing all of this and meeting our people. It’s the reason you get in a band, really,” he said.

“We have been all over Europe so far – and have been to Amsterdam for the first time, which is amazing. We just came back from the US and Canada in August, so we’ve been busy. It’s been a busy last couple of months.”

The band premiered One Easy Thing on February 15 as the lead single for their second studio album.

“The suit of armour [in the music video of One Easy Thing] is metaphorical in lots of ways in terms of how I interpret music and how music is so rooted in emotion.

“I always strive for an element of honesty in our performances. I like to bring a range of emotions. When you go to a show, you go through so many different feelings – one minute being more combative and angry, the next minute tender, and then maybe funny. I try to be as open and honest as possible in the way I am on stage by letting the emotion of the song be the conduit,” said Drinkwater.

This UK and Europe tour is the band’s second tour after they have toured their debut album Uppers.

“The first time we toured we were very keen to shake out and shake off a lot of the frustration we’ve had from being separated for two years. So, the nature of that tour was quite intense, punky, visceral, and loud. It’s not to say that we moved away from all that, but this album has got a few more tones by the nature of it. We’re very keen on showing that and playing with a bit of light and dark.

“We play loud music most of the time, but this time I want to show it’s not just who we are as artists. We’re capable of showing emotions other than anger,” said Drinkwater.

And, he added: “[On this tour] I’ve allowed myself to be more of a singer in lots of ways and to have moments where I draw melody. It’s really strange because sometimes when you listen to a song you sort of disassociate a bit, and for me, that’s really special. Even for the rest of the band, we try to play around with the technicalities of a song to expand the kind of sound we’re producing. The boys invest a lot of time learning about different sounds to create something that feels more considered than just back-to-back noise.”

“We play loud music most of the time, but this time I want to show it’s not just who we are as artists. We’re capable of showing emotions other than anger.”

The band kicked off their tour in Diksmuide, Belgium on October 23 and will continue touring the UK and other European cities before finishing in Cologne, Germany on November 25.

Doors will open at 7pm and the show will start at 8pm at Firebug Bar. Tickets are priced at a face value of £9.

Tickets are available for purchase at https://www.seetickets.com/event/tv-priest/firebug/2312962.

The band will play 13 European shows and 12 UK shows to include Leicester.