Local communities get cooking

Posted on Friday 24 July 2020

Ready, steady, cook...

Across Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole people of all ages, abilities and from different backgrounds are cooking and sharing photos or videos of their creations online.

Charities and community groups are making the most of social media and video conferencing software during Covid-19. They are using it to help inspire people to continue to learn how to prepare cheap and nutritious meals.

Many local people need a bit of extra help or support at this time. This might be a young family or lone parent experiencing food poverty, an elderly carer who has never had to cook before, or someone with a learning disability unable to attend their usual support group. There are also those living with mental health issues and other isolated residents.

The Friendly Food Club, founded in 2005 by Tony Gibbons, usually provides free community cooking workshops but has been leading the way with providing free weekly cook boxes to those in need. The bag of goodies contains a recipe card and all the ingredients needed to prepare a cheap and easy dish – everything from curries to scones. Online videos for each recipe are also available. To help families with their home learning, the back of the recipe card features a fun food-related activity for children to do.

Cook boxes are provided to residents in neighbourhoods across Dorset, including Townsend, Turlin Moor, Poole Town and Boscombe in the BCP Council area. The Friendly Food Club is working alongside other community groups to identify people in need. Smile Connect, a Poole support group for lone parents, is receiving 20 cook boxes from the Friendly Food Club and they have also given the group food handling training and are now providing additional bags, labels, recipes and video links. This means Smile can use their own volunteers and food provision to provide a further 40 cook boxes to the Smile community during the school summer holidays. 

Tony said: “We know how much our families enjoy receiving their cook boxes, cooking together and having fun learning to prepare a new recipe. Food is a catalyst for so many things such as increased self-confidence, improved health and inspiring others.”

One Smile Connect parent commented: “My daughter really loves doing the cooking. She gets excited and now wants to cook more. Thank you all so very much, we really love it.”

Working with their partners, the Friendly Food Club has produced and delivered over 2,300 cook boxes in Bournemouth, Poole and other parts of Dorset since starting in April. They have received National Lottery and Dorset Community Foundation funding and have further plans to expand their work.

Tony added: “We are developing 'seniors' cook boxes for our older isolated clients in Turlin Moor, West Howe and other areas of Bournemouth. This will include a war time recipe and encouragement to share ideas with their neighbours to help re-kindle some cooking skills they may have forgotten.

“It’s very important for us to get our clients back cooking and talking together so we’re also developing workshops over Zoom and working with community centres.”

The Friendly Food Club is also developing customised cook boxes for the many ethnic minority groups in the BPC Council area, in partnership with Dorset Race Equality Council. They are also working with Dorset People First to develop a cook box for people with additional needs.

Meanwhile, Christchurch Food Bank+ has launched a meal in a bag project which provides struggling families with a good nutritious meal to replace one of the twice weekly hot meals provided during the lockdown. All ingredients are provided along with instructions taken from the foodbank’s ‘cooking on a budget workshop’ recipe bank. The team are also working with Christchurch Community Partnership to introduce a weekly meal in a bag later this summer to older residents who have been shielding.

The Water Lily Project, which supports and empowers vulnerable women in Christchurch and surrounding areas, is running summer holiday cookery courses for those on low incomes. Along with their children, the women will get to learn how to cook simple, nutritious meals on a budget. The Water Lilly Project has also been running live cooking sessions via Zoom throughout lockdown. The project also runs the Water Lily Café,  serving low cost food to the public every week day from 10am to 1.30pm.

In Bournemouth, an ‘Eat Well Spend Less’ free six-session online course is providing cookery skills and household budgeting tips thanks to Bournemouth Food Bank. Participants who are enrolled on the course receive a weekly food parcel with all the ingredients and fresh produce needed to complete each recipe. Participants are also provided with basic kitchen equipment if they need it. The items can be kept if the course is completed successfully.

Over at The Crumbs Project the focus for this non-profit organisation is to provide a range of specialist training services. The charity supports adults with learning disabilities, mental health issues and stabilised addictions. Crumbs offers a place for vulnerable people to learn practical skills in catering, administration and housekeeping. During the lockdown Crumbs have continued to support their students through daily online learning sessions. They are also keeping in touch with students at weekends via social media and instant messaging, ensuring everyone stays connected. Food parcels for the trainees to cook from fresh are sent home to those that need them, along with a recipe and further online support if they get stuck. In addition, the catering business is still ongoing. The team are providing an affordable food service to gain revenue to support the charity and their community work.

Finally, Let’s Cook online videos run twice a week on a Monday and Thursday via the council’s Early Years Facebook page. We are encouraging parents and young children to cook together and try out some easy recipes which are family favourites.

Councillor Vikki Slade, Leader of BCP Council said: “It’s vital to address the underlying issues behind why some people experience food crisis. This community work demonstrates how important additional support is to provide people with the confidence and know-how to cook affordable and nutritious meals. It is lovely to see so many projects which are helping people to learn or refresh their cooking skills and to see the results being shared online.”

Did you know?

The council continues to run a ‘Together We Can’ Covid-19 community response helpline. We offer vital advice and help to those who are unwell, self-isolating or experiencing food poverty, who do not have family, friends or other support networks. Complete the online form to request help or telephone 0300 1237052.