jamie’s ministry of food update

Story by Camilla Cameron

Nigh on two years down the line, Rotherham continues to be the Jamie’s Ministry of Food “jewel in the crown” and there is no sign that local interest in Jamie’s project is in any way waning. A simply wonderful and inspiring place, which leaves me skipping and with renewed belief in the whole Ministry of Food campaign.

The lovely Lisa Taylor has worked at the food centre since it opened and she has now been joined in the kitchen by Deborah Brashaw and Jan Davies. Together these brilliant ladies are teaching an average of 25 classes a week, including their new, and vastly popular, evening sessions. Alongside this, they are still supporting very many community and civic events in and around Rotherham, meaning they are able to spread the Ministry message to even greater numbers of people than can just visit the Centre. They are, of course, still bolstered by the help and support of the Centre’s keen volunteers and, since the start of January, two lovely people, Lisa and Stephan, on work-experience placement for 6 months through the Future Jobs Fund.

Over the last year, the Rotherham team has identified particular “target groups” that they are interested in attracting to cooking lessons – these being: individuals or families on low incomes; young people between 16-18; and carers and their dependents. However, they also work with a wealth of groups from local charities, businesses and services. These include – to name but a very, very few – Barnardos’ Young Carers Group – whose youngest member to attend classes is only 9; the Richmond Fellowship -an organisation which supports people with learning difficulties; the Council’s own Parenting Support Advisors who themselves work with low income families; Disability Living; Headway – which supports people with head or brain injury; the Fire Service; individuals referred by the Drug and Alcohol Unit; and the Youth Intervention Team.

All of this, I may say, is before you even think about the fabulous weekend Grandparent/Parent & Child classes, the Children’s Cook Clubs, the Holiday Clubs or after-school sessions that are hosted by the Centre. Or, indeed, the continuing workplace Pass-it-Ons with the likes of Bramall Construction or Silverwood Mine. Not perhaps surprisingly, with this level of activity and interest, the Centre is now fully booked up until July.

Since it opened at the end of November 2009, the Ministry of Food, Bradford, has got off to a cracking start. Soraya Overend and her lovely colleague Lisa are already hosting over 10 classes a week in the Centre and there is a steadily growing waiting list for places. Soraya – seen above with tells me that her oldest learner to sign up for classes is 89, whilst the youngest is a mere 15 months old and comes as part of a Young Mums group.

As in Rotherham, Bradford is already finding that the Jamie course is encouraging people who have never cooked before to pick up their knives and get chopping. Amongst these are a woman married for 40 years who had never cooked a meal at home for her family and a young mum who detested all green vegetables, who could not even recognise celery or spinach, but who is now cooking vegetable and lentil soup for her family and loving it.

Bradford has also had great support from community groups and is already working with those coming from alcohol support groups and young people from the Prince’s Trust to name but two. The interest and excitement over the project in the city is so great that Soraya is hoping to soon have another staff member to help her out and allow her to add very many more classes to the number she now teaches, as well as enable her to take her portable hobs to schools, workplaces, and community centres to initiate Bradford’s own Pass it On scheme.

You may perhaps have read recently that we are soon to open a 3rd Ministry of Food -this time in the wonderful city of Leeds. Due to open sometime in the Spring, the Centre has been funded by our partners in NHS Leeds and Leeds City Council. The new Centre is to be housed in the Kirkgate Market in the city centre – a much-loved local landmark, it is said to be the largest covered market in Europe! The Market is home to over 800 stalls – including, happily from our point of view, innumerable butchers, greengrocers and fruiterers and even, gulp!, a specialist tripe shop. The historians among you may also be interested to know that, once upon a time, Marks and Spencer’s started here as a penny stall! Emma Croft from NHS Leeds and I are presently working on plans for design and fit of our lovely newest Jamie’s Ministry of Food centre.

Finally, I cannot repeat it enough, but the girls and boys working in our Food Centres in both Rotherham and Bradford are deserving of the highest of praise for their hard-work and enthusiasm. With Jamie’s help and inspiration, they have picked up his challenge and have got their communities cooking. With patience and skill they coax even the most nervous learners to give it a try, and bring talents out in others that they never knew they possessed. All this is done in a hugely welcoming, friendly environment where fun is definitely put back into cooking, where there is great support and camaraderie amongst the learners, and where everyone can discover just how easy and simple it is to produce delicious food for themselves and their families.

If you ever happen to be passing by, or you’re even vaguely in the neighbourhood, I would urge you all to go and visit a Ministry of Food Centre. If you don’t come out skipping too, check your pulse, because I think there may be something seriously wrong with you!

About the author: Camilla Cameron is the Campaigns Manager for Jamie Oliver Ltd

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