My Food Community member cooks up a storm this Cook and Share Month
During the pandemic Susie Jenner began to volunteer at the Hornbeam in Waltham Forest. The Hornbeam is a wonderful place, a beacon of hope and light and this was especially true during the Covid Pandemic.
The Hornbeam relies on its regular volunteers, like Susie, who support a small core unit of staff to host community meals, run a community café, a living well programme and much, much more.
Susie’s volunteering at the Hornbeam centres around the weekly People’s Kitchen, where she is a buddy volunteer, so she helps guide the weekly volunteers with knife skills, preparing recipes and trickier tasks.
The weekly People’s Kitchen sees a diverse mix of around 25 people come together each week, some volunteers have learning difficulties or are neurodiverse and others have been introduced to the weekly cooking sessions through a referral by their GP or social referrals. Susie is there to offer a warm welcome and a friendly face to the other volunteers. Once the sleeves are rolled up and aprons are on everyone is simply a volunteer no matter how they came to the Hornbeam.
From Walthamstow and beyond
In September, Susie enrolled onto the My Food Community (MFC) programme, she heard about it via Organiclea and was thrilled to find a flexible training scheme that had good food and social justice at its heart.
Susie is, as she says, “I am very much learning as I go, I am a mum of young children and with the volunteering at Hornbeam I want to settle into something that I am passionate about that can grow around me as my children grow up, but I am aware I needed something structured to learn skills in leadership and strategy.”
As well as volunteering Susie is currently mid-way through an organic horticulture course and has hopes to combine her passions for people, good food and the climate to bring to life her idea that a sustainable food system should be accessible to all and that good food should not just be available to the few.
Susie wants to use the training and learning from MFC to have a greater impact in her community and has gained in confidence during the time she has been a participant. “I have the power to make change and I am not sure I knew that before. I didn’t see myself as someone who could lead something as I wasn’t the obvious description of what a leader is. But I now know I can create the space for action in my community, where it matters and that is thanks to My Food Community.”
She continued. “I have learned that good leaders call on the people around them to make change and I know there are so many amazing people and groups who are connected through the Hornbeam, I hope the My Food Community training I am on will help me become an effective leader who can play a significant role locally and further afield to deliver equality through food.”
Cooking up a storm at the Hornbeam
Susie has worked with the team at the Hornbeam to host an extra special People’s Kitchen event during Cook and Share Month, this week it is a carrot and coriander soup with tomato bread, roast squash, stir fried greens and a dessert of fruit salad.
The doors are flung open at 10am and a small group of regular regulars will begin to arrive and gather for a chat over a cuppa. They plan the menu for the day – which is different each week as the food comes from donations of surplus food and store cupboard staples.
They then divvy up the tasks, some people want to be away from the hustle and bustle of the café and work on food prep by chopping the veggies, and others very much want to be in the thick of chatter.
By 1pm it is time to come back together and share a meal and the volunteers cooking have been joined by some local residents who just come for the food, which is encouraged, the Hornbeam is a warm safe space. There is often some spare food too so the volunteers will parcel up the leftovers to take home or give away via networks. Nothing goes to waste.
Susie reflected: “The people who come to the People’s Kitchen do so for a number of reasons, some use it as a place to meet people and get out of the house but for others it can be a form of therapy and there is a real desire to feel useful and contribute.” She continued: “Many people who are either retired and living alone or struggling with mental health issues want a sense of purpose and whilst they may appreciate the meal at the end of the session their reason for coming is often the feeling of community and being valued. By coming together for a Cook and Share event we have taken a moment to be grateful for the Hornbeam and the People’s Kitchen.”
The need is real, action must happen
As part of the MFC programme Susie will receive a Leadership Action Grant from Get Togethers to help her put her ideas and plans into action. Struck by the inequality of food access and the real and growing issues around climate change Susie hopes to revive the Food Pantry in Waltham Forest (Susie is this right?).
As she reflects: “It angers me that there is so much need, yet no lack of food – if we consider the food waste from supermarkets alone, yet people still struggle and go hungry or worry about how to feed their family. That just isn’t right.”
Whilst there is a bleaker winter ahead than we have experienced in recent years, with the help of the Hornbeam team and volunteers like Susie there is a beacon of light for the residents of Waltham Forest.