Cooking for companionship and connection in Oldham
published on 9 Jul 2021
An innovative project to get people cooking healthy meals while staying connected has helped up to 50 families in Oldham.
The Meet, Cook and Eat Project set up by Reel CIC and The Salvation Army first ran in the school holidays with families from the Fitton Hill estate getting together to cook and eat new dishes.
At the start of the pandemic when they were no longer able to meet in person, this became the Talk, Cook and Eat group, funded for six weeks by Oldham Athletic Community Trust as part of its ‘diversity dish’ project to encourage people to cook different foods and enjoy eating together.
Now the families are continuing to share recipes they have made using food from charity Fareshare, which redistributes surplus food to charities, and Salvation Army donations.
Salvation Army community worker and Reel CIC director Kim Rogers, who works together with Corps Officer Major Estelle Blake, said: “Before the pandemic Meet, Cook and Eat would run in the school holidays or whenever there was funding for it. We found that people were struggling with cooking, but also a lot of single parents would eat alone so they really liked that they could sit together and socialise.
“At the start of the pandemic we set up Talk, Cook and Eat. Although the need for crisis food was being met, we wanted to look at what we could we do to keep people connected. We saw there was a need in that people’s mental health and wellbeing were suffering.
“With Oldham Athletic funding diversity dishes for six weeks, we had different themes, e.g. Indian, Chinese, Caribbean, or Polish. Each week people would get a bag of ingredients and make different meals. The only thing they would have to buy was meat.
“We put demonstration videos on Facebook, organised quizzes and handed out ‘practical prizes’ like cooking equipment, which had been donated by Ultimate Products."
When the Oldham Athletic Community Trust funding ended, they were able to continue with Salvation Army funding. Now as a way of keeping the project going on limited funding, group members donate £2 for the bags of food if they can afford it that week, or others can donate on their behalf.
Kim continued: “As part of the food parcels we provide, we include ingredients like raisins or flour and ask people to cook their own recipes using those ingredients and share what they make on the Facebook group.
“It’s great because they encourage each other and ask questions about the recipes. It helps healthy eating as well as trying something new.
“This is part of the recovery model, people are not dependent but are using low-cost food that would otherwise go to landfill, are cooking themselves and sharing their ideas with others.
“At one point we had 50 families, now we have about 30 families taking part regularly and they really love it. We can’t wait until we can all cook together in person.”
Through the project, the team also found other ways to help people such as donating pots and pans or cutlery to families that did not have enough.
One mum Lisa said: “It’s made such a difference for me. There is always something different in the bags, things I would not normally buy like celeriac, asparagus or fennel. I love that my daughter is able to try all of this.
“We post ideas into the group and people really get involved. One week someone posted a video showing people how to make Polish dumplings. It really gets you thinking about cooking something you wouldn’t normally think to.”
Another added: “This group has given me a reason to get out of the house and has slowly helped me back into social situations I have avoided. I really enjoy the challenges of making something new and including my children to encourage them to create new food dishes.”
Another said: “Making new friends and finding new recipes has been great.”
With funding always an issue, Kim and the team are looking at other ways of keeping the project going.
Kim added: “One thing we do lack is fresh fruit and vegetables. It would be great if we could work with local supermarkets on sourcing these as it’s such a great project which has made a big difference to so many families in Fitton Hill."