I have a close friend, who as a young mother in the 1980’s bought frozen cheesy jacket potatoes! Why? Because she didn’t know how to cook jacket potatoes! At the time I was incredulous, but she wasn’t and isn’t unique. Some people for whatever reason do not learn the life skill of purchasing and preparing food or indeed how to eat a balanced diet. Following World Health Organisation advice, doctors and dieticians have advocated, for some time now, that we in the UK should eat more fruit and vegetables. Indeed the national campaign to eat ‘5 a day’ was an attempt to flag up this issue https://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/5ADAY/Pages/Why5ADAY.aspx.
However, the counter argument has been that people on restricted incomes find it very difficult to eat healthily, that fresh foods are expensive options and too often people buy the cheaper more processed foods that are high in fats, sugar and salt. The Northumberland Full Circle Food Project http://www.fullcirclefoodproject.org.uk/ aims to challenge this perception and strives to resolve this dispute by proving you can eat well on a low or restricted income. Its goal is to give people the confidence and skills to budget, plan and cook healthy meals. The Project, established in 2013 not only tries to address the effects of poverty and deprivation, and reduce incidences of diet-related ill-health but it also aims to make our communities more socially inclusive.
Hazel is a volunteer for the Full Circle Food Project (FCFP) and she spoke to me recently about her role within the organisation. Hazel volunteers twice a week for up to three hours at a time and says she treats her role with as much commitment and dedication as she did her former career. She explained she is currently the only volunteer***, but along with the Full Circle team, she works in Schools and Community Centres to give guidance on health, nutrition and cooking skills, as well as practical shopping advice.
In a previous life Hazel was a Consultant Cognitive Therapist in the NHS and moved back to this area when she retired a few years ago. However, after several months she became bored and “wanted to give something back” Therefore she looked on the internet for voluntary vacancies in the area and after looking at many different roles she felt FCFP matched her skill set. Initially she met up with Vanessa (the Project Manager) several times “because I didn’t just want to rush in and commit myself, I wanted to know what the work actually involved”.
Hazel stressed that the practical aims of the project are not the only positives people take away from their involvement. In fact, she sees massive improvements to participants self-esteem and self-worth levels and emphasises that there should never be any stigma attached to needing help or advice. Hazel acknowledged that had her own life been different, she may well have needed the same support too. The ultimate aim of the project is that individuals come away feeling better about themselves “What they learn about themselves is probably more important than learning how to cook!” One example she gave me was that of a lady who didn’t live with her young son but came along to sessions with him, as a way of keeping in contact. This lady had a priceless reaction when the son won an award as recognition for his contribution to the group. “His Mam was so proud of him, it was so emotional and so lovely to see.”
There are two groups running separately, one deals with adults only, whereas the other is for young people under 16 (young people generally come along with an adult, usually a parent, to encourage family involvement.) The people targeted she says, are perhaps those on low incomes, but it’s the diversity of the people who attend that amazes her most. Some people may never have received guidance about healthy choices or food preparation and therefore never discovered an interest, or “just what fun, food can actually be”. Hazel feels that people who attend should be admired because it usually takes a lot of courage for them to turn up to the first session and engage with strangers. What is more, by pushing at their own boundaries and sticking at it, people can gain enormous confidence and resilience. In fact, Hazel herself has found delivering sessions has pushed her own boundaries because “I found it quite scary at first, but also quite liberating too!”
Hazel feels that since she began she has been given feedback and support and was made to feel very welcome. “I have worked in many places professionally, where I felt volunteers weren’t always appreciated” but she said she is always kept “in the loop” and feels like a full member of the team. When asked about personal development Hazel said she uses the skills she developed in her career but in a slightly different way. The positives for Hazel personally? The project she says has given her purpose and structure to her week as well as being fun. She has met many new and wonderful people, as a volunteer, and this has enhanced her quality of life.
When asked what has been the most positive thing about her volunteering experience Hazel said “the satisfaction of making real positive changes to the lives of people, many of whom had adverse life experiences”. Indeed, making a positive difference to somebodies quality of life and development of social skills, creating a sense of achievement and increasing their self-confidence are only made possible because of the of “fun and laughter that we have in the group”.
If Hazels story has inspired you to volunteer Full Circle Food Project are currently (***April 2018) trying to recruit volunteers and need more people who can commit to the service.
If you feel you have what it takes why not visit http://www.northumberlandcva.org.uk/volunteering/volunteers to find out more.
Alternatively, you could visit (the above) Volunteer Connect database to start exploring other opportunities we have available within the county.