We are raising money to fund more of our innovative dietary behaviour change courses, across London. Our programme builds skills and confidence with our students who are often on the margins of society, enabling them to lead more normal, settled, lives and feed themselves nutritious food.
We have found that, with those who are in, or at risk of, food poverty, an ordinary cooking lesson has very limited long term impact, and this is backed up by academic research. It's difficult to change anyone's long term dietary habits (as anyone that has tried to diet knows!), and for those who are hardest up, it's even harder as they have the added constraint of being on a budget. With an Iceland Pizza at only 89p, if we cannot compete with this sort of pricing, people will continue to buy the stacks of pizzas I see them with in the checkout queues.
For this reason we do a few things. First of all, we have designed the course using Behavioural Science (aka "Nudge" techniques) to give people the best chance of improving their diets. All recipes are costed to come in at under £1 a portion, yet be as tasty as the takeaways or ready meals we are competing with (e.g. Special Fried Rice, Sheek Kebabs, Curries, Fajitas - what we call "takeaway equivalent" foods). Don't worry - we've had NHS funding and they are all calorie counted and healthy, too. And, at the end of the lesson - which has a minimum staff to student ratio of 1 staff to 3 students - students can buy a "kit" of ingredients to try it all again at home. This "kit" has everything they need to make it again at home, and costs just 75p per portion (£3 for 4 meals). As you can imagine, most of our students do therefore try cooking at home, with good results, which builds confidence and really does change their long term diets. Kids ask to "have it again" and partners say "better than the takeaway".
We know that our students save on average around £1,500 a year on food having done our course - about 1/2 of that on their food bills, and the other 1/2 on takeaways.
The impact therefore on people's lives is very dramatic. Not only has their diet improved (many many of our students lose weight), but they are able to save money or pay off debt. Impact on mental health for both these reasons is quite significant. We have evaluations that indicate that our course has over 3x better outcomes than a cooking course run by Jamie Oliver.
To date we have taught over 600 people in Hackney and we are expanding to other boroughs, Islington has just started, Southwark is due early 2016 and we would also like to expand to Tower Hamlets, neighbouring borough to Hackney, where we know there is plenty of demand as many residents try to access our Hackney courses.
We work with people from a range of different sources, so the classes are very mixed. As the classes are in the middle of the day, most people are not working. We have referral arrangements with a wide range of charities we work with, as well as foodbanks, the Jobcentre, CAB, support workers and health partnerships (NHS and Public Health refer in), Typical students that we have include:
- living in homeless hostels
- recovering from substance addiction issues
- with mental health issues
- with disabilities (our classes are fully accessible)
- with learning disabilities
- with diabetes or other health related issues
- unemployed and on tight budgets
- sanctioned by the DWP
- single, isolated and living alone (often elderly)
Our only criteria is that people "want to learn to cook for less than £1 a portion". However, we work hard to source people from suitable income/high needs groups.
We also have a high volunteering component of our programme, which allows students to progress to be volunteers and teach others, building confidence and skills. We have over 70 volunteers, most of them ex-students. This also makes the course much more effective for the students, as they are often inspired by the progress of previous students.
The initial funds raised should be sufficient for around 6 additional courses to be run across London. This should affect the lives of around 160 people directly (the attendees); as many of the students will take the bag home and cook it for others, then the secondary impact is around another 340 people - kids who will be fed better, carers who will cook it for the people they are caring for, friends who will cook it for flatmates.