Cooking and sharing meals help young homeless people in Brighton and Hove

Development Manager Natalia Borg at The Clock Tower Sanctuary which supports young homeless people tells us about their Healthy Eating and Nutrition Project which received a Good Food Grant last year.

by Helen Starr-Keddle, Good Food Grant coordinator 

What did you use the Good Food Grant for this year?

We deliver weekly cooking workshops, activities and visits to gardens to help young people have another perspective into food and growing. We’ve built relationships with local food retailers and businesses to ensure a variety of fresh nutritious food every day at our communal kitchen.

The ongoing cultural change is significant considering we are working with some of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable young people in Brighton and Hove.

Every day, the volunteers have a discussion with clients about what to cook, who can do what, any special requests, whether we need vegan or vegetarian options etc. We are really excited about continuing this momentum and the outcomes we can achieve next year.

What was the most successful aspect of your project?

Thanks to funding from Good Food Grant this year, our project has been a roaring success.

Healthy eating, nutrition, exploring and learning about ingredients and cooking have become embedded within the ethos of Clock Tower Sanctuary and forms a key part of our daily service at the centre.

This means that homeless young people have access to, but also vitally, the motivation and interest, to eat and learn to cook healthy, freshly prepared meals. The project has provided the non-threatening, informal environment which vulnerable young people, who often feel anxious, or avoid group and learning environments, need.

For example, the Lentil Workshop worked through lentil soups and spicy dahls to lentil burgers. A volunteer ran a specific session on making a roué sauce resulting in macaroni and cauliflower cheese.

The variety of delicious healthy food cooked and the high level of energy and positive engagement between the clients and volunteers has been a real success. The process of peeling, chopping, seasoning, stirring, tasting, and serving has afforded time and space for chat and easy conversation. The interaction we’ve seen during the project term feels very natural and hopeful.

One volunteer said: “I learnt more about Joel’s background and current housing situation while arguing and debating over how much garlic and seasoning to use in the tray bake than I have in the past four months.”

Who has the project benefited? How many people were involved?  Did you involve any volunteers?

During the project term, 162 individual homeless and insecurely housed young people aged 16-25 years old benefited from access to free, healthy, nutritious meals.

The project has also benefitted our team of 45 volunteers, by providing a way to have a shared, positive experience with a young person – increasing engagement and building trust.  The volunteer team is a major resource in driving and delivering the aspiration of the project. Many are experienced family cooks, used to cooking using fresh ingredients. We have been particularly fortunate to attract a few who have commercial cooking experience and they have raised the bar and are familiar with finding vegetarian or vegan options and alternatives such as dairy or gluten-free to cater for those with food intolerances.

How has your work made a difference?

Healthy eating is now the norm at CTS – it is perceived as fun, tasty and a “good laugh”. The project has also been a catalyst for young people identifying they have a skill and passion for cooking. This has helped steer them towards a path in the catering industry and secure volunteer and apprentice work (e.g. The Barista Course at One Church).

What are your plans for the future?

We want to maintain momentum and develop new ideas based on our clients' feedback. This includes Let’s Cook Thursdays which aims to teach clients to be versatile in their cooking choices, introduce healthy alternatives to well-known, comfort dishes e.g. adding black cabbage and spinach to bubble and squeak (popular as it uses leftovers from people cooking in the kitchen). Show how snacks can be healthy and tasty e.g. making kale chips, guacamole and hummus.

Again, we will harness the enthusiasm and knowledge of cooking brought into the centre each day by our volunteer team, all of whom have a desire to upskill, cook and eat healthy food with our clients. The workshops will be planned and run every Thursday, but ad-hoc activity will run throughout the week.