Since the Community Kitchen opened one year ago, we’ve served more than 3,000 meals around our sociable dining table. A huge range of local people have had the opportunity to learn about food, to prepare food together and to participate in the joy of sharing food.
The Kitchen has truly proved a cookery school with a difference – offering 18 community cookery courses, including:
- Jamie Oliver’s Ministry of Food basic cookery courses
- Healthy Heart courses for people with learning disabilities
- Cooking on a Budget courses
- A dementia-friendly cookery group
- ‘Food Inspiration’ course for unemployed young people from Barnardo’s
- A course for disabled young people from Amaze
- Four one-off cookery workshops
- Three Affordable Bread classes with Real Patisserie.
All these activities are offered on a donation basis to ensure they are accessible to people on low incomes.
As we celebrate our first birthday, we want to highlight the voices from this community side of the Kitchen’s work. These voices show the positive changes people experience from community cookery activities. These stories sum up why the Kitchen came into being and why learning to cook is such a vital and empowering experience for everyone in the community. You can click on the links below to read the full stories about how each person benefited from taking part.
A safe environment
Sarah took part in a Ministry of Food course as part of her recovery from an eating disorder. As she explains:
“I was looking for a relaxed, sociable and safe environment to build my relationship with food. I wanted to challenge myself in a safe space and do it together with others so I could feel the normality of cooking and being around food.”
She learned a whole batch of cookery skills and knowhow. The comfortable, informal, fun and supportive atmosphere of the class she attended, however, was where the real benefits lay:
“There was a lot of support from the staff which made me feel safe being me. I knew that coming to the class, even when I had almost no sleep the night before and I wasn’t well, would make me feel better. For me it was a place where I could really be myself and not ‘Sarah the patient’ or ‘Sarah with the eating disorder’.”
For some, the experience is life-changing. Helen attended the Cooking on a Budget course this April. She uses a wheelchair and until the course had relied wholly on her mother for cooking. She says:
“Skills-wise, I’ve developed massively. I’d never fried before and I couldn’t chop anything. Now I can use a knife safely and I can break eggs confidently. I never knew I could do these things and now I can. I’m not scared anymore ….
“Now I know I can look after myself if anything happens to my family. The course has made me feel so much better knowing that I’m going to be OK. It has given me a sense of peace.”
For others, learning to cook isn’t the sole motivation for attending a course. Joan needed to lose weight to ease the pain of an arthritic hip – and following the Ministry of Food course she went from 22 to 15 stone. But the social side of the course was just as important to her:
“For me, the course was also about meeting people. It was something to do and to look forward to as I live on my own and don’t go out much. I lived most of my life in London and moved to Brighton after my partner, who was the love of my life, died. Because of the course I started going out more. I learned and gained confidence.”
She now volunteers at the Community Kitchen. “It makes me happy,” she says simply.
Scott’s horizons have broadened too. He went on a Healthy Hearts course for people with learning disabilities in 2018 and is now looking for part-time kitchen or bar work. He says:
“I learnt knife skills and really enjoyed chopping the vegetables. I feel more confident in myself and less depressed … My confidence has rocketed.”
He says he would highly recommend the course to others – and would do another himself “in a heartbeat!”.
As well as courses, the Kitchen is also available for hire at a low rate to community groups. In its first year, it hosted 10 breakfast clubs for Age UK/Brighton Veterans and had 18 hires to community groups such as the Network of International Women, Refugee Radio and the Migrant English Project (MEP). Kate Holder of MEP says:
“Women from the Migrant English Project use the Community Kitchen to get together to cook a shared meal and have expressed a lot of gratitude for this opportunity to cook and share recipes with each other. It is a brilliant way for the group to improve their English and learn food-related vocabulary and also build relationships.”
We are proud to be able to share some of the stories we’ve heard in our first year. For our second year in the Kitchen we have added a monthly Time to Cook Club for people with dementia and their carers, and Old Spice, a cookery group for older people. Everyone who pays to attend our cookery classes helps make these community activities possible – thank you!
Please note that names of course participants have been changed.