Who would’ve thought a kitchen could make such a difference?

Paul Morrish | 30.04.15

I recently spent two fascinating days in South, West and North Yorkshire visiting some of the projects and young people benefiting from LandAid grants. I had expected to be impressed by the ingenuity, creativity and sheer bloody-minded dedication of the charities I was visiting, but I wasn’t prepared for the surprising lessons I learned in two different kitchens in Sheffield and Bradford.

Two of the grants that LandAid had made were to charities that wanted to provide new kitchens for their projects. Graham Mynott from Keyhouse in Bradford showed us round the large kitchen that we’d funded and described how it had helped them support young people who had been homeless to learn basic cooking skills.

Most, if not all, of the young people Keyhouse supports will have experienced difficult upbringings in insecure housing and even more insecure families. They often have little experience of home cooking, of food preparation, nutrition, and of cooking for (or being cooked for by) a friend or loving family. The work Keyhouse did went someway to filling that gap.

But it had also provided a great community hub as well, with other projects and communities using the kitchen for events, get-togethers and festivities, connecting through Keyhouse’s hospitality. And in a diverse city like Bradford, this had brought people together from different cultures, communities and faiths who might otherwise never have met.

The impact a kitchen can have was even more apparent at Manor & Castle Development Trust (MCDT) where Lucy Andrews, their Head of Fundraising showed me round. Manor & Castle in Sheffield used to lay claim to the dubious sobriquet of ‘Most deprived ward in England’.

Driving round now, it’s hard to recognise the levels of disadvantage that might have earned them the title. Kerbs are newly laid and tidy, traffic calming features were exemplary, front gardens seemed neat, rows of local shops appeared busy – and intact.

Neighbourhood Renewal investment following the 2007 election of New Labour had made a massive difference, and as Lucy described the area she first worked in, I got a real flavour of what the ward had been like, and what had been achieved through local engagement, planning and control.

But a young person growing up in Manor & Castle is still likely to die 10 years younger than their counterpart growing up in Ecclesall, just a couple of miles away.

10 years……!

MCDT operates out of a converted pub. Providing a range of courses, activities, training, coaching support and care to young people and parents across the ward it is one of those remarkable powerhouses of ‘can-do’. As funding is cut from one vital service, so staff work feverishly to secure funding from somewhere else, to do something else, which will allow them somehow to carry on doing the vital service that lost its funding. Their worked is scrutinised by local health and social care bosses with a level of detail that would put corporate investors to shame.

And they had asked LandAid for a kitchen.

Of all the things they needed, and that we could help them with, £15,000 to refit a kitchen was top of the list.

As Graham from Keyhouse had before, so Lucy explained that the youngsters they worked with seldom had home cooked food – some didn’t know what to do with a potato or a cauliflower. “So this has helped them learn how and what they can cook?” I asked. “Absolutely,” Lucy replied. “Which presumably has helped improve kid’s nutrition and health?” I went on. “Absolutely!” “Which also presumably helps kids during the school day, improving attention and so on?” I added, on a bit of a roll. “Quite,” she said, trying I think to get a word in edgeways, “But that’s not the biggest impact the kitchen has had!”

Lucy explained that the new kitchen allowed them to provide all the young people who came to the Centre with a hot, home-cooked and delicious meal every day. And partly because they had this facility, and partly out of a genuine desire to achieve as much for as little as possible, they had also started hosting a small community after-school club, called MASKK.

Previously, some of the young people that MASKK most wanted to engage and support had started to drift away. The club had been based in a nursery and the youngsters felt it was all a bit ‘baby-ish’. The move to MCDT had turned things on their head. The new venue, the ‘cool’ feel to the place, the greater opportunities to mix with older kids, and the food, had all turned the tide and now they were struggling because youngsters didn’t want to leave and more were joining all the time.

But the remarkable impact of the kitchen went further still. Lucy explained that before the move to MCDT and the offer of home-cooked meals, parents would come at 6, harried and harassed, and try to extricate their off-spring as quickly as possible, to hurry home and cook a ready meal before bed and sometimes an evening shift. It was stressful and distressing. The kids were upset, parents were cross and anxious. Suddenly all the good work that had been achieved with some lovely but challenging kids was undone.

Hot, home-cooked and delicious meals cooked in a LandAid kitchen had helped to change that. Parents came to the club calmer, knowing they wouldn’t need to cook (or spend money on expensive ready meals). Kids were well-fed and calm, and looked forward to going home and there not being a row. There was time to talk, for staff and parents to share news and updates. There was time.

These two kitchens, funded through the generous support of the property industry, had taught basic life skills, developed confidence, produced amazing food, brought people together, tackled stress, and slowed time down for hard-pressed families.

There is a lot more to addressing the needs and aspirations of the young people being supported by Keyhouse and MCDT than simply providing kitchens.

But, as the #ge2015 approaches and the Party leaders stand in their bespoke and very expensive kitchens vying to convince us that their plans to improve things are best, quietly, but dramatically, local people working in LandAid kitchens based in amazing charities are actually improving things for young disadvantaged people. Now.