Cooking up a storm

Hands up who makes too much at every meal time? Do you put it in a tub or freeze it full of good intentions or does it go straight in the bin or the dog’s bowl? Does it lie at the back of the freezer unlabelled for so long that you forget what it is then throw it out?

I’ve done all of those to various degrees. One day at work I opened up what I thought was tomato soup to be faced with pasta sauce but even that didn’t make me label tubs.

What I didn’t think about was plating up that extra portion and taking it two doors down my elderly neighbour or across the road to my young neighbour in those first chaotic days when she had her baby.

Once upon a time that’s what used to happen but now with freezers in every house and hectic lifestyles we’ve become more self-centred and inward looking.

Step in to the rescue the Casserole Club.

The Casserole Club is a FutureGov initiative and its aim is simple – to help people share extra portions of home cooked food with others in their area who might not always be able to cook for themselves.

You can sign up as a cook or a diner and be matched up with someone in your area. You can either use the whizz bang pair-up function on the website or do it by phone or email.

So far the scheme is up and running in Reigate and Banstead and all of the diners are aged over 80 but the hope is that Casserole Clubs will spring up around the country and that there will be a mix of diners, from recently widowed people to young mums, to people whose partners have a spell in hospital. Cooks may become diners and diners may become cooks, depending on changing circumstances. As relationships build young people may even start as diners, learn to cook then go on to cook for others.

Last week there was a meeting of minds at Casserole Club HQ to start discussions and gather requirements for a Casserole Self-Starter DIY Kit. Although the three FutureGov resource workers are doing a sterling job there aren’t enough of them to go around to grow the project as far as they’d like it to grow. Looking at similar business models community projects like this work better if the community takes ownership, hence the meeting to work out what would be needed for Casserole Clubs to be self-sustaining up and down the country.

So far the project’s funding had come from the Design Council and the Technology Strategy Board, with possible future funding coming from Nesta. The next step is to set up a Casserole Club in a central London location with 50 pair-ups in the first few months, along with the development of a web app which will include user to user communication, SMS integration, a group admin user role, and local business networking.

So up for discussion was what would actually be in the starter kit and who should get them, a network of contacts and a bank of FAQs. There was also a lot of discussion around health and safety and this seems to be a bugbear of the project and a barrier to getting buy-in from local authorities.

Personally, I never think about the potential food poisoning when I go to dinner at a friend’s house or think twice about eating the cupcake my neighbour’s children hand in every now and again and that’s the spirit of Casserole Club.

It’s not about a sterile environment creating a sterile meal. It’s about a meal made with love for family being shared with someone who needs a little home-cooked love in their life.

It’s also not about replacing meals on wheels or whatever other meal delivery service social services provide. It’s about adding value to that service, popping round to a neighbour, handing in some food, making sure they’re OK. It’s about building community capacity building.

The one thing the Casserole Club has learned is that everyone wants to cook but finding diners can be difficult. I’ve joined as a cook but there are no diners in my area. The key to finding them lies with local authorities, hospitals and charities, the people surrounded by red tape who can’t get past the health and safety.

They are the ones who can match up cooks with young families, people who have recently been widowed, people who are just out of hospital, new young mums, carers needing respite, young adults coming out of foster care, the list is endless. If they’re that sticky they are the ones who can put cooks through their food hygiene course, possibly at a reduced rate. They are the ones who can put Casserole Club leaflets in information packs and newsletters.

The red tape is imaginary and community Casserole Clubs will spring up without official help – it might just take a bit more time to find diners.

So let’s cut through the red tape, get a casserole on the go and break bread together.

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