Canterbury appears to be well-placed to introduce cooking classes and other non-medical therapies that the government is encouraging as a way of treating loneliness.
Cooking classes are well-established in the area. They have emerged as one of the most popular and effective ways of helping the homeless and people with mental health problems to start to turn the corner.
Each week between 20 and 30 adults in Canterbury attend a session in a church kitchen for Porchlight, the homelessness charity, and at the Umbrella Centre, the charity focused on mental health.
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A former chef runs weekly sessions at the church and volunteers lead others in the three Porchlight hostels.
The chef, David, teaches Porchlight residents how to create healthier, homemade versions of takeaways such as burgers, pizzas and kebabs.
This includes helping the participants find the best places to source good but inexpensive local ingredients. If someone in a hostel cooks a Sunday roast, David can also show the group how to turn leftovers into dishes for the coming week.
While the primary aim is to give the clients the basic specific skills they need to mainstream life, the underlying goal is to build broader qualities — such as discipline and collaboration.
“Getting someone involved in activities like this can often lead to longer lasting and more significant change in their lives,” said Porchlight spokesman Chris Thomas.
“Once they realise what they’re able to achieve, they begin believing in themselves. This is important because, in many cases, others haven’t believed in them. This positivity is crucial to the process of change.”
Over at the Umbrella Centre in St Peter’s Place, numbers attending the weekly session have risen from about six to 14 recently. One person, a volunteer, staff member or client, demonstrates a dish they know and, afterwards, the group eats it together.
Anna De Brauwer, centre manager, said: “It’s giving them a sense of belonging. Most mental health is so isolating. They are learning to eat properly again. An indication of mental health issues is neglect: they don’t eat properly.”
The Umbrella Centre — formed out of the ashes of the St Augustine’s hospital — publishes its first book today, ‘Welcome to the Umbrella Centre — A Journey through Mental Health’.
It costs £5 and available from the centre in St Peter’s Place. Over 150 people go the centre each week — for lunch, classes including yoga, cooking and art therapy and just to be there and meet friends.
The centre is hoping that local individuals and organisations will make financial contributions to it, following major funding cuts from local government.