A lunch club set up to provide children with a meal during the school holidays has seen its numbers rocket over the last three years.

More than 150 children took part in this summer’s club compared to just 12 when it began in 2016.

And Universal Credit has been blamed for the dramatic increase in families who need help providing their children with a healthy meal, during the holidays.

Sandra King, from Preston Seton Gosford Area Partnership, who help fund the club, which runs in Prestonpans and Tranent, said there was no doubt the impact of East Lothian being used to pilot the roll-out of Universal Credit was being witnessed.

She said: “It is like being back in the Seventies: the number of families who are struggling and need support is high and the Universal Credit pilot in East Lothian has definitely had an impact.”

The outward appearance of East Lothian as an affluent county was misleading, she added, with families in all of its town and communities struggling.

She said: “Even in places like North Berwick we are seeing families affected. It is an issue which touches every community.”

The club, which is run by Fundamental Foods,  began in Prestonpans after local headteacher Sheila Laing highlighted the struggle some families faced and has extended to a second base in Tranent.

In Prestonpans, they moved the club into Preston Tower Primary School this year from the Pennypit Pagoda because they needed more space.

In Tranent, it operates at Sanderson’s Wynd Primary School.

Both the Preston Seton Gosford Area Partnership and Fa’side Area Partnership help fund the holiday club with money given to them by East Lothian Council as part of their food poverty strategy.

The local authority set up a short-life working group to look at how to tackle food poverty following the establishment of East Lothian Poverty Commission in 2016.

The group looked specifically at ways to help children and young people who need support for “holiday and every day hunger”.

One of their key actions is to support and develop breakfast, after school and summer lunch clubs in schools.

As well as providing daily activities and healthy meals for youngsters, the club in Prestonpans and Tranent has  a pantry stocked with food and available for everyone to help themselves to items they need as they enter and leave the club.

Local branches of Tesco, Aldi and the Co-op regularly supply the club with leftover food and 20 staff and volunteers run the club, at both its centres, including an additional support needs specialist.

Ruth Davie, from Fundamental Foods which is part of the Prestonpans-based Pennypit Trust, said children come from all over the Preston Seton Gosford and neighbouring Fa’side wards to the club. Most are referred.

She said local knowledge allows them to identify families who need extra help through the community.

Ruth said: “It is really important children can access healthy food and can be difficult for parents during school holidays.

“We have a number of families with a lot of children and provide a service for children aged three to 15. Some of the older children come back and volunteer as well.”

As well as food, the club provides free toiletries and took the youngsters on trips over the holidays to places such as East Links Family Park, Dunbar.

And free haircuts were provided by Cockenzie-based Unique33 salon.

This week the club has been replaced with a uniform swap shop as school returns next week.