Cook Together, Share Together, Learn Together

27 November 2017

Image: Karen GrahamKaren Graham

It started with a conversation with my colleague Roy. Roy lives independently and has a few hours support for shopping and cooking. Cooking is one of the things Roy most wanted help with, but his new Support Worker hadn’t ever really cooked before. Undaunted, they looked up how to cook spaghetti bolognese, went shopping and had a go at cooking it together. They would not just made something to eat, they had done all of the research and planning and they had learned together. And that discussion gave me an idea.

I live with my family. We choose together what meals we will eat that week, decide which supermarket we go to and when we will go. We cook and sit down together to eat, share conversations and we take this for granted.

Some people with learning disabilities may need support to enable them to make healthy lifestyle choices, particularly where they are living independently. It is important that people are given information about how to promote physical and mental wellbeing in a way they understand to make informed choices.

With these things in mind, we set up Cook Together, Share Together as a pilot in North Halifax aimed at supporting people to learn how to eat well. We have matched five people with learning disabilities who live independently, with a volunteer. They meet up once a week to plan, budget, shop, cook and share a meal together. It’s partly about eating well, but it’s much more than just that. It’s about sharing, learning, building social networks and friendships, and spending time with other people, all of which we know are important to support wellbeing.

Most of the people taking part in the pilot have diabetes so the health aspect is an important part for them – learning what is good to eat and what is not so good. A Dietician from South West Yorkshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust has offered their expertise, which has been very useful.

We started off by working with each person to put together a One Page Profile to show what is important to them. This helps with the volunteer matching. We have also done some community mapping with individuals to recruit a volunteer from the person’s community – we felt that this was really important in order to build relationships and use existing community assets.

Reciprocity is key here – no one is being paid to deliver these services, everyone is doing it because they want to, people are sharing their gifts and talents to help people develop skills and interests. They learn together, so everyone benefits, and the idea is that this lays a foundation to expand their social network and build friendships through shared activities.

To help with meal planning, we bought some easy read cookbooks to enable people to choose recipes and to develop a portfolio of meals that they enjoy and can cook. The idea is that through these weekly meet-ups, they can build their skills and experience so that they feel empowered to cook from scratch at other times, rather than relying on ready made meals, which aren’t always the healthiest options.

It is early days for the pilot and we are using an action learning approach, which means we are learning as we are doing. We’ve had a lot of support and positive feedback from Calderdale Council Independent Living Service as well as the people involved, and things are going well. We are still working out how to measure the impact of what we're doing, and how we would look to expand when the time is right, but we wanted to start small and get it right before we started growing.

Calderdale Learning Disability Partnership Board and Self Advocacy Network have shown a lot of enthusiasm for the pilot and we have also had an offer from a trained chef to bring everyone together on a regular basis to cook and share a community meal together. This would add a new dimension to the project beyond one-to-one relationships. There is also scope and opportunity to develop the idea further to encompass inter-generational or inter-faith work. We think that this model of co-production in practice is applicable beyond working with people who have learning disabilities, to act as a way to bring communities and people together, utilise assets-based approaches and encourage participation. Although it is still early days, we are excited by the possibilities.

About the author

Karen Graham is a Service Manager at Cloverleaf Advocacy on the Lead the Way service and Sheffield Advocacy Hub. Karen has worked for Cloverleaf for over 11 years and is passionate about everyone having a voice, feeling included and having opportunities to reach their full potential.

Related resources

Easy read website: www.leadthewaycalderdale.org

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