Creating catalysts for connection in Darwen
Dawn Juson, based in the market town of Darwen in Lancashire, has been getting involved with Cook and Share through her volunteer-run Let’s Get Growing workshops. Dawn, alongside her colleague Simone Clarke Chadwick, noticed some unused land at the back of Darwen Valley Community Centre and began to speak to the council to turn this into growing space for the local community.
To see if there was a desire for such a project locally, they started on a smaller scale. Running pilot workshops using funding from Blackburn Community CVS and the Community Asset Fund, both Dawn and Simone give their time voluntarily.
“It’s been really well attended. We get people coming back week after week and it’s all about food and how important eating healthy is on every level. It doesn’t have to cost the earth if we can grow it ourselves and cook it from scratch.”
Each week, a group meet up to learn about food and share meals together, with Cook and Share being a good opportunity to spread the word. Sue Jeffries from Blackburn Adult Learning delivers a growing workshop in the morning before the group eat lunch together, and a food-focused workshop is delivered in the afternoon by Dawn or Simone.
Often those attending experience anxiety and isolation so it can take a lot of courage to attend the session and get involved, but many return each week ready to have good conversation over good food whilst growing skills and confidence. “The ladies have said it’s the highlight of their week. We talk about life and pressures, and especially since Covid people are still so isolated so it’s such a heartwarming group to be a part of. With Cook and Share happening too, I just thought, this will be a really good opportunity to spread some positivity in a world that needs it right now.”
In their most recent session, the group learned about fermentation – making kombucha, sauerkraut and kimchi to enjoy both at the session and at home – and shared a butternut squash soup together. “It was a topic that was so new to so many people, but we had ladies who were like ‘we had no idea what you were talking about but we absolutely love it!’ and took plenty home with them.”
Despite the group’s success and the value it brings to the community, its continuation is less certain. Like many community groups across the country, the time and money it takes to run eventually takes its toll and becomes less sustainable to run on volunteer hours and little funding.
“We have realised a project like this cannot be lead by two volunteers alone . Life gets in the way of good intentions and what the community needs. I think however we have shown the need for this and the engagement is there too. So we are hoping we have started something that can be continued as a true collective. We have some strong skills in this group already and we think it will only grow."
In the future, Dawn hopes to connect with other local groups to find a way to make it work longer term, but as of now things remain uncertain. Soon, Dawn will begin the My Food Community Food Leadership course, which supports local food leaders to take action around good food. Support from the government isn’t forthcoming, which is why food networks like this are so vital – the more we talk to each other, the more we can share resources, skills and support to bring healthy and sustainable food to our communities.
“Even if it’s just neighbours coming together to eat, that sense of togetherness is so needed in the world at the moment,” Dawn shares, and we couldn’t agree more. Whether it’s cooking dinner as a family or sharing extra portions with neighbours, food has never been more important in connecting people.