The heartwarming joy of Casserole Club

Casserole Club intern Oona discovered why a shared meal can create friendships

by Oona Terrile, Casserole Club intern

Over the past ten weeks I have been an intern with Casserole Club, a project that aims to tackle social isolation, malnutrition and food waste all at once. It links up people in the community who would like to share an extra portion of food with an isolated or older neighbour who would benefit from a meal and a friendly chat once in a while.

New age volunteering

Those who have heard of the scheme ‘Meals on Wheels’ will know an elderly person having a meal delivered to their doorstep is not a new concept, and befriending schemes like the Neighbourhood Care Scheme (NCS) also exist. What is so unique about Casserole Club is it combines both of these aspects while adding a modern digital twist. People can register as cooks through the website, and after going through a small vetting process it allows them to search for diners in the area that they can share a meal with.

Getting people on the radar

Communities are not as tight knit as they used to be “back in the day”, which is leading to different groups of vulnerable people and the older generation becoming increasingly isolated. As Casserole Club has continued to grow, it has come to light that it is also playing a big part in identifying older people who may be at risk and have not previously been on anyone’s radar. Due to the Brighton and Hove Food Partnership's links to the council, NHS, Neighbourhood Care Scheme (NCS) and Age Concern UK among others, Casserole Club in Brighton can help identify vulnerable people that have been flagged up by a cook, and then offer them advice about other support that is available to them.

Different demographics

Despite the majority of diners being over the age of 65 – Casserole Club initially was geared towards older people - as it has grown in Brighton the project has seen an influx of diners from other demographics and from all corners of the community - who are as much in need of a home-cooked meal and a friendly face as anyone else.

My time at Casserole Club has really opened my eyes to the amount of people in our society, young and old, who are limited in many different aspects of their life because of their conditions; age alone is not an indicator of how isolated, vulnerable, or deserving a person is. One diner, who is 53 and suffers from severe ME - a form of chronic fatigue, describes herself as ‘a nice soul who just happens to be stuck in her home and a bit ill.’ She is a lovely, chatty lady but because of her condition she doesn’t get out a lot. I managed to match her up with someone who shares her interest in gardening and after one phone call they clicked straight away and have a lot to talk about.  Just having a chat and some food with someone to look forward to every once in a while can really lift someone’s spirits.

Real friendships

Many of our cooks and diners say they would now consider each other to be friends. Despite the 60 year age gap, Paul and Peter have a lot to talk about. Peter orders in a bottle of wine each week and they share it with their food over rich conversations full of culture, politics and jazz. Paul himself battles depression, and he says whenever he leaves Peters he feels “ace” for the rest of the day. He says that “it is incredibly good for a person’s well-being to give to someone, to make someone else happy, to have purpose, to connect,” - he describes it as “a mutually beneficial friendship” that he values very much.

Why it is so important that this continues - and why it should be available all over the UK.

Not only does Casserole Club improve people’s well-being and reduce food waste, but it could also save money on public services as well. By 2018, Adult Social Care will face a funding gap of £907 million. And with more than half the population set to be 50+ by 2020, we need services to help fill that gap. Good food and good company are two simple - but greatly important aspects to living a healthy and happy life. Without the help of Casserole Club – hundreds of meals wouldn’t have been eaten together and countless friendships wouldn’t have been made. Casserole Club's aim as a food sharing project - may be to fill bellies... but it is to fill hearts too.

I have loved every minute

As an intern for Casserole Club, I’ve had the opportunity to do many other things at the Food Partnership. I’ve spoken to sheltered housing schemes around Brighton and Hove about receiving surplus food donations, visited the community garden with women recovering from substance abuse and I’ve helped make wacky foraged mocktails for the Food Partnership AGM - with ingredients from the allotments of the lovely staff here at the Brighton and Hove Food Partnership. It has been a lovely and very heart-warming ten weeks.