By Cathie Howard, photos by Brian Watson
Social cooking, community cafes and gardening groups are sprouting up across West Dunbartonshire to tackle the growing problems of poverty and loneliness.
Charities, housing associations, schools and faith-based organisations are developing local solutions to provide food and friendship with no strings or stigma attached.
The ‘Plot to Pot’ philosophy is growing in popularity and Kevin Mason, project manager of the Leamy Foundation, plays a key role in promoting it throughout the area.
Seasonal produce, grown in local community gardens, heads straight into the pot in the social cooking sessions.
The benefits are enjoyed on a weekly basis in Alexandria’s Veterans’ Hall and Ladyton Community Centre in Bonhill.
From Plot To Pot
Kevin explained: “The social cooking gives people a reason to get out of their houses for awhile, to spend time together, meeting new people, sharing a cup of tea or coffee.
“Hopefully they enjoy learning about food – growing it, harvesting it, cooking it or trying new and old recipes and it builds confidence along the way.
“These sessions are open to everyone, with a particular focus on anyone who feels socially isolated for any reason.
“From the Leamy Foundation’s perspective our interest would be to involve people who find themselves experiencing anxiety, depression or whatever causes this isolation and to establish a regular point of social contact.”
The Leamy Foundation was established in 2015, initially to encourage well-being through social gardening. Like the gardens, it has blossomed into an ever-growing network of community initiatives.
Kevin enthused: “There is so much going on throughout West Dunbartonshire connected with food. Various projects are established in Haldane, Alexandria, Bonhill, Bellsmyre, Dumbarton, Old Kilpatrick, Dalmuir, Clydebank, Faifley and more.”
They are also working in local schools encouraging little hands to dig deep in the soil to grow their own food.
As a result there is a plentiful harvest of ingredients awaiting the culinary touch and local cooks are coming forward to lend a hand with the community cooking groups.
The growers at the Leamy Foundation love the experience of growing their food from scratch. One commented: “There is nothing more satisfying than the pride you get, both cooking and eating food that you had a hand in growing and tending.
“Older generations would have had ‘hands on’ experience of the food on their dinner table.
“The big supermarkets changed food production. Most fruit and vegetables were mass produced elsewhere and shipped back into our local areas which removed that hands on personal connection that ordinary folk had with what they ate.”
In addition to the community growing initiative an increasing number of organisations are offering a menu of activities which put food at their core.
Dishing Up Food And Friendship
For those who need food or company there is a free community meal to be found in Dumbarton every week day.
Local food charity, Food for Thought dishes up something hot at their Community Soup session in St Augustine’s Church Hall every Wednesday and Thursday lunch time.
Ghislaine, long-time volunteer and founder of Community Soup, said most days they have 30 – 40 people popping in for a bite to eat.
“It’s sad we need this in 21st century Scotland, but we do. Some of the people who come in here won’t see anyone else from one week to the next and this might be the only hot meal they get.
“During the holidays we also supply the schools with soup and sandwiches which the children get when they come along to do their activities. The Council pays for this, it helps our Foodbank and makes sure the children still get something hot to eat when the schools are off.”
Food for Thought also run a daily foodbank service from St Augustine’s and offer a catering service to help cover their costs.
On Christmas day they have a Christmas dinner and party which last year was attended by over 70 people from the local community.
Ghislaine added: “We go and collect people and drop them back home, everyone gets a gift and we have a wee party. We don’t want anyone to be spending Christmas alone.
“We’re always in need of volunteers to help on the day and in the run up, we’re run off our feet. If there are any drivers who can collect people or cooks to help get the meal ready on Christmas day, we would love to hear from you and we always need people who can collect the food for the foodbank.”
This year they will also be hosting their first New Year ‘s Day Dinner from 6pm on January 1 in St Augustine’s Community Hall, with a free three-course meal and live entertainment.
It will be an alcohol-free event to provide a safe, social environment for all. The meal is free for anyone to attend just book in advance by contacting Food for Thought.
Robert and Stewart are regulars at Food for Thought’s Community Soup, enjoying the company as much as Ghislaine’s delicious home-made soup.
Robert said: “I would go hungry without it here, they really help. If you’re hungry, you just feel run down all the time and end up ill, this takes a bit of the pressure off and you can always talk to the folk in here.
“It’s a good way to meet people as well and start getting back into society if you have problems. I can’t cook, so it’s great getting a home-cooked meal in here.”
Stewart agreed: “They feed you well in here but the company is important as well. If you’re feeling down when you come in, you know you will have a laugh and feel better before you leave.
“You also find out what is going on in the community and if you need some help with anything there is usually someone to ask. You get a good blether and I enjoy listening to the younger ones, it helps you get well and move on with your life.”
Kirsten Wiggins, another volunteer with Food For Thought, is starting to collect money-saving tips, budget recipes and free food skills such as brambling and jam-making to share in their newsletter.
She has kindly shared a few with our readers and if you have any ideas, recipes or tips that you – or your granny – would recommend to save money please email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Cooking On A Budget – Top Tips
- Save Your Garlic – peel all the cloves and put those you don’t need into a jar and cover with cooking oil. They will keep longer and your oil will end up superbly garlicy. You can use it in dishes or spread on bread to make your own garlic bread!
- Tomato Puree Left-overs – can be covered in a little oil, stick in a bay leaf and bingo – you have the start of a simple tomato sauce.
- Home-made Toast Toppers – make your cheese for a sandwich/baked potato or cheese toast go further by mixing it with a little finely grated carrot, mayo and onion…or mushroom.
- Fuel Efficient Cooking – cut your veg up small before boiling and cook in the same pan. Not only does this save on the energy bills, it also saves on the washing up!
Community Food Spaces
- Mon – St Patrick’s Church Hall 12.30pm – 1.30pm
- Tues – Lennox Evangelical Church 12 noon – 1.30pm
- Wed – Community Cooking, Bonhill Community Garden, Ladyton 12.30-2.30pm
- Wed – Community Soup – St Augustine’s Hall 11.30am – 1.30pm
- Thurs – Community Soup – St Augustine’s Hal 11.30am – 1.30pm
- Fri – Community Cooking, Veterans Hall, Alexandria 12.30-2.30pm
- Fri – The Phoenix Community Centre, Castlehill (pay what you can)
- Mon – Fri – Sweet Success Community Bakery – Concord C.E Centre (pay what you can)
Do you know a Community Food Space not included on this list? Please let us know so we can add it.