Cyrenians Community Cook Clubs offer a nutritious meal in the company of others – something to eat and someone to eat with. In this week’s guest blog, Community Cook Club Coordinator Amanda explains why she loves her job, and talks about the amazing work being done at the Cook Clubs to build community and reduce loneliness.
Last week I was listening to the radio on the way to work. They were discussing what the most amazing job in the world would be. It made me think that I could not wish for a more rewarding job than the one I have. I get to meet lots of people, witness transformations in people and communities all whilst enjoying my favourite hobbies – eating and chatting; and as a nutritionist, it’s a pleasure to pass on my knowledge to benefit them.
In 2015, Cyrenians started our Food Conversations where the negativity people have around food was explored. This is where the journey of our Community Cook Clubs begins and is what shaped how we help bridge divisions and bring people together. We learned that it wasn’t necessarily the food, but another associated memory that was the negative, yet we heard clearly how much making a meal, and being cooked for, meant to the same people. It was the company that underpinned the positive feeling as much as the meal. This was the catalyst for our Something To Eat, Someone To Eat With as explained in this video.
Nowadays, community social spaces are in decline and increasingly we live amongst strangers. Not so many years ago we would walk in and out neighbours houses and knew everyone in the street by name. These days, much as I say “hello” and take our neighbours bins out, I could not tell a single neighbour’s name. What I do know is that the one thing that we all have in common is that we have to eat to survive.
What I love about Cyrenians is that they value food hugely. Food is much more than just fuel – it influences social, emotional, physical and mental changes. It is key to everything and I passionately believe everyone should have access to healthy nutritious meals and be able to enjoy the company of others. The thought of someone skipping a meal or not cooking because they have no one to share it with is heart-breaking.
People become isolated for various reasons but as the Cook Clubs are open to all and free to attend, different generations and backgrounds mix as one. Some people initially feel out of their comfort zone, despite it being their own neighbourhood, but here is when the real changes happen. People begin to trust again – that there will be food on the table, others will share their food. People feel self-worth, looking after themselves better and feel positive towards food. Many members live chaotic lifestyles, Cook Clubs help give them structure and becomes a positive part of their week.
Currently we have 16 Community Cook Clubs across Edinburgh, the Lothians and the Borders. Isolation is no respecter of wealth and so there are clubs in areas as diverse as Morningside to Moredun. We have cooked together and shared in the region of 3000 meals but equally importantly that’s tens of thousands of laughs and conversations.
Recent conversations highlighted that confidence in cooking had increased significantly, including home cooking by members using skills learnt at the club. As you can see in this video one of our volunteers Albie describes how we cook simple meals from scratch that people are able to enjoy making and eating.
Socialising is equally important and it was found that loneliness has decreased for participants as they build relationships within the club. Cook Clubs are one big family, everyone looks out for one another. Many who were strangers before attending now share meals in each other’s homes and take part in other activities together.
Initially people stated that they felt it was too expensive to cook for one yet now we regularly hear comments around saving money, health improvement, decreased anxiety, more active lives and better social skills. Stories like these really highlight the impact and importance of the Community Cook Clubs.
We hope to continue opening Community Cook Clubs across the whole of Edinburgh so everyone can easily access them at least once a week. Our model means we are not trying to take over the world, quite the opposite as it relies on exiting clubs once they have a group that are self-sufficient and thriving. Whilst we will continue to support Cook Clubs by way of food supply and advice the whole idea is based upon giving the group back to the community to run – building friendships, growing community, improving health, encouraging conversations and bringing smiles.
Community Cook Club Project Coordinator
19th June 2018