Free School Meals Map

By the time I was on the case, there were already hundreds of amazing offers of help to those in need. These were beginning to be collated into a Google Map. Whilst the map was an excellent source of information, it lacked some key things that I thought could aid usability and enable those who need it to really find the best food provision they could.

On top of this, the method of data entry lacked an easy method of moderation (something I later confirmed was needed whilst vetting some outliers).

Improving the design

The were a number of goals to be achieved, but these needed to be balanced against the urgency required (and personal time restraints). Most importantly:

  • the site had to be accessible
  • the pages should load quickly on poor internet connections
  • the information should be available without the mapping layer

The improved site would be able to filter, sort and view details about locations using the metadata already provided by people. For instance, there was a wealth of information about which days certain locations would be open - adding a filter for this is as simple yet very convenient way of allowing people to tailor results to those that are appropriate to them.

By splitting detail pages out into their own pages with permanent URLs, people could save links to important locations to them.

Working with time constraints

In order to do all of this in a day or so, there needed to be some rapid development. To the rescue came:

  • Ruby on Rails
  • Postgres
  • Leaflet
  • Heroku

Sticking with a stalwart crew of battle hardened technologies meant that I could move really quickly and get the basics up as fast as possible. The Rails console is a godsend for data manipulation on-the-fly.


One of the versions of the free school meals map, showing hundreds of locations across England and Wales

I’m pleased to say that has served its purpose for now and played its part in trying to get these wonderful offers of help to those in need. It will remain up for now as a reference point and record of all those who opened their doors (and hearts) when others needed it.

Follow Up

I was on the Tech for Good Live podcast!

In this episode, I joined Bex and the crew for discussions about my efforts, volunteering and surveillance from the social media giants.