This week’s guest blog is from Oliver Goulden, our Marketing and Communications Officer, who had some time out of the office to go and enjoy lunch with our Meadowbank Church Community Cook Club group…
‘Heya, howr yer doin?’
So began my venture to Meadowbank Community Cook Club today, from a particularly friendly and cheerful chap called Garry. Every Thursday, he gets here well-before the official start-time of 11 to help out with food prep, and to learn cooking skills alongside other volunteers and attendees.
The Cyrenians Community Cook Clubs deliver a simple core offering – ‘something to eat, someone to eat with’ – at various venues in and around Edinburgh and Fife. People can turn up simply for a free meal, and some great company – or, they can help cook as well, learning valuable cooking skills whilst enjoying a wee chat with other folk.
Being holiday season, it was a relatively quiet group – but that didn’t detract from my experience in the slightest. What I found is an open, welcome, and inclusive bunch of people – happy to accommodate newcomers, whomever they may be. Sitting with others, preparing food in common, and chatting as we do so is something I do not do enough, and had forgotten how easy and rewarding it is. It’s something I did years ago in shared households as a student – these days, it’s just the occasional group meal out with friends or family.
One volunteer I spoke to briefly, Michelle, told me that she had started going to the Lunch Club at the Hibs stadium, but wanted to use her own skills (her work background is in catering) to help out, to “bring the community together, and to be part of that community”.
It was lovely to see this in action, and to be part of that – to meet people involved, to see and hear about friendships that had blossomed as a result of their being-there together.
Amanda Law, the Project Coordinator for the Community Cook Clubs, oversees over 20 groups in different community hubs. Food poverty is a serious issue in Scotland – with 1 in 10 people each year having to make the choice between adequately feeding themselves and paying their rent – and, while anyone can attend, regardless of their background, this project is delivered with the intention of tackling the interrelated disadvantages of poverty, social isolation, and homelessness.
She told me that “I love seeing how this project has touched the lives of so many different people – to see communities develop, and people flourish as a result of that.”
Ian, an attendee of the group, told me that, for him, the value lay not only in saving money – but that at a Community Cook Club “you learn how to make it [food] yourself as well, with something to take home too.”
Something as simple as a community meal can, for some, have profound and transformational effects as well.
For Garry, who finds it difficult to live independently and to cook for himself, the social experience alongside learning opportunities is invaluable. He immediately made me feel welcome as soon as I walked in – introducing me to others around the table, telling me all about how it works – and was very candid and open about his life experience. With his first experience of homelessness at the age of 11, he’s struggled throughout his life to lead a secure and settled lifestyle: now, having been in a place he’s been able to call home for two years, he greatly values the support he gains from being among others:
“For someone with a background like mine, the support network is so important. I’d never known friendship before coming here. I love this wee group – it boosts my confidence.”
I myself started volunteering with Cyrenians because of its vision – an inclusive society, where everyone can lead a valued and fulfilling life – and its holistic approach to stopping homelessness. Everyone I speak to commends the individual, relationships-based approach – valuing and acknowledging diversity, knowing that everyone’s solutions cannot look the same – and it is that approach, alongside the core values, that now guide my day-to-day activity as a member of staff.
Would I go back? Absolutely. We can too often find ourselves meeting the same kind of people, sticking to the same groups – and this kind of stratification is detrimental to everyone, not least the most disadvantaged of our fellow citizens. As well as being important and valuable to communities as a whole, it’s also just simply an enjoyable experience – and, it’s free.
No one should underestimate the simple power of community, and the value in building it up to tackle some of the most serious social injustices of today.