20/06/2012 12:36 BST | Updated 20/06/2012 12:38 BST

Martha Payne, NeverSeconds School Dinner Blogger, Praised By Raymond Blanc As 'Brave'

A Michelin-starred chef has described a nine-year-old schoolgirl as "wonderful, smart and brave" for raising awareness of food standards through her blog.

Martha Payne started the NeverSeconds blog six weeks ago, posting pictures and opinions about her school lunches in daily updates.

Raymond Blanc has now joined other celebrity chefs Jamie Oliver and Nick Nairn in praising the young girl.

On Thursday, Martha was told by Argyll and Bute Council that she could no longer take photos to illustrate her blog as media coverage had apparently left catering staff fearing for their jobs.

However, the council back-tracked on its decision after a barrage of negative publicity in the media and on social networking sites.

The controversial ban led to thousands of donations flooding in to Martha's JustGiving site, which she set up to raise money for Mary's Meals.

Blanc, who runs the Michelin-starred Le Manoir restaurant in Oxfordshire, said: "The newspapers and the internet have been alive with reports of Martha Payne. What a wonderful, smart and brave girl.

"She has done a very simple thing: taking a photograph of her lunch and telling us what she thought of it each day. But she's also done something many grown men and women might fail to do.

"She has raised awareness of the standards of food provided in most schools - tastes, textures, flavours and nutrition.

"She has also created a dialogue with schoolchildren and students across the world where we can all discover what they are eating.

"But the real triumph must be to have raised so much money for Mary's Meals, this charity which provides nutritious meals for seriously-deprived areas of the world."

The Le Manoir chef has praised the schoolgirl for her bravery

Martha's JustGiving site, which she set up to raise money for Mary's Meals, has now received more than £93,000 and her blog has been viewed more than six million times.

Mary's Meals runs school feeding projects in communities around the world where poverty and hunger prevent children from gaining an education.

Martha far surpassed her £7,000 fundraising target, with her total rocketing from £3,000 to the current amount after the ban.

It means a kitchen will be built at Lirangwe primary school in Blantyre, Malawi, and all 1,963 of its pupils will be fed for a whole year, as part of the charity`s Sponsor A School initiative.

Martha has chosen to name the kitchen Friends of NeverSeconds, in recognition of the worldwide support she has received.

Martha's father Dave Payne said he was "touched by the kind words" of Blanc.

He said: "His support, along with the overwhelming response we have seen from around the world, has been amazing and we are so, so grateful.

"This will mean a lot to Martha because Raymond is someone who she loves watching on telly."

It costs Mary's Meals a global average of just £10.70 to feed a hungry child for an entire school year.

The charity currently provides a daily meal to over 650,000 kids every school day in 16 of the poorest countries, including Malawi, Liberia, Kenya, India and Haiti.

Mary's Meals founder and chief executive Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow said: "We continue to be absolutely blown away by the scale of the response to Martha's efforts over the last week.

"Martha is obviously a very special young girl and we couldn't thank her, her family and her supporters enough for everything they have done."


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