Every Tuesday at 6pm the training room at the Foyer – an accommodation centre for young people affected by homelessness – is hastily converted into a makeshift diner for Free Food Tuesdays. Computers are shifted, tables are pushed together and kitchen roll artistically folded. The residents start to arrive for a weekly meal with a difference.
For many young people living at the Foyer, cooking is an alien concept. Having been homeless in the past, many of the 31 residents have not had the opportunity to develop culinary skills and lack the confidence to cook from scratch. Many don't cook, relying on expensive and often unhealthy ready meals – some will go regularly without food.
In the UK 4 million people do not have access to a healthy diet and over 500,000 now access food banks. Access to affordable healthy food is one factor; the skills and know-how to choose and cook healthy food is an important added dimension, especially for younger people.
The Bath Foyer – one of a handful of Foyer Federation Healthy Conversation Hubs nationally – has begun to tackle these issues.
By linking up with food charities Fareshare South West and FoodCycle, the Foyer can provide quality food and, more importantly, an opportunity for young people to get together to share a healthy meal they have created together. Run by residents and project staff, Free Food Tuesdays can be like TV show Ready, Steady, Cook – until the delivery of food arrives on Monday afternoon, we have no idea what it will contain.
As the food is unpacked, we discuss what we could do with the ingredients. The aim is to make food from scratch as far as possible. We try to be a bit ambitious and encourage people to try new things, but are careful not to scare anyone. Once the menu is decided, it's put up around the building. This week, resident chefs Iain and Kurtis have opted for a Chinese theme for the food – sticky soy and honey pork with stir-fried vegetables.
Free Food Tuesdays is about much more than a free meal. The initiative is helping young people to learn to love good food and to understand how to create healthy home cooked meals. It's removing reliance on unhealthy and expensive processed foods. What we teach varies depending on need – from basic food hygiene to knife skills, cooking techniques, how to prepare new foods and recipes and how to eat a healthy and varied diet.
Budgeting is also a major issue for most of our young people and the ability to cook and shop effectively can have a big impact on this. Teaching these skills is an important part of moving our clients towards independent living.
We've introduced a number of other fresh approaches to food, health and independence. These include transforming the garden and the arrival of some feathered residents that are now fully grown and laying eggs, providing the young people with more knowledge and skills as well as a supply of fresh eggs.
Free Food Tuesday has become a highlight of the week for both staff and residents here at the Bath Foyer, with more and more people coming to eat and to help cook. We're going to need a bigger table. And chopsticks.
This blog was originally published by The Guardian Housing Network.