A CATERING training charity that gives disadvantaged people the ability and confidence to find jobs is helping its trainees develop their cooking skills at home thanks to a partnership between Dorset Community Foundation and BCP Council.
The community foundation has distributed £80,000 of the council’s Winter Support funding to 14 food projects across the area through its Dorset Coronavirus Community Fund. Among the recipients is The Crumbs Project, which has been awarded £4,000 to give its 30 trainees, who have additional needs or mental health and addiction issues, food boxes and recipes to cook for their families.
“It’s keeping them engaged when they are in isolation and it is also making sure they and their families get some nutritious meals,” said Erika Sloper, food service manager of the group based at the Hibberd Court retirement complex in Bournemouth.
“We have got to know a lot of the trainees’ families over the pandemic and we identified some who weren’t getting the nutrition they could be. The grant is helping us transfer some of their skills the trainees have learned to the family at home.”
Each week the trainees discuss their menu plans with the group’s training staff before receiving their food box and recipes. Staff are on hand to talk them through cooking the meal on Zoom if needed and everyone shares the results on a WhatsApp group.
It is one of the ways the group has kept in touch with the trainees during the lockdowns. Apart from a brief return in September, they have been out of the training kitchen since last March. “Our training team worked from home and set up Zoom quizzes and one-to-one training so that all of our trainees were engaged every day with all of us,” said Mrs Sloper.
The group, founded in 1997, caters for residents in the 52 flats at Hibberd Court every lunchtime, as well as running a bakery outlet that supplies cakes and pastries to corporate clients and caters for weddings. The group also runs nine pensioners’ lunch clubs in community halls across the area.
We are so thankful for the community foundation’s support, we couldn’t do half of what we are doing without it.
Trainees, who stay with the group for up to two years, are taught cookery and front of house skills such as waiting tables.
“It is about giving them a purpose in life because a lot of them have been told they are useless all their life,” said Mrs Sloper.
“They come here, we find their niche and they thrive in one area which we help them grow in and then they go off to work in cafes, kitchens in nursing homes or something like that. It’s a very worthy project for people who would otherwise be forgotten along the way.”
They are taught much more than basic catering skills. “We are growing trust because they come through the door not knowing what to expect but then they realise they can do the job and along the way they get friends and life skills,” said Mrs Sloper. “Some can’t read or write so we do literacy and number training with them.”
The group’s income has been badly affected by the pandemic and staff have sought other ways to bring money in, such as selling and delivering frozen ready meals and cakes. Mrs Sloper and three colleagues had to stay at the complex at the height of the pandemic to continue producing meals for residents.
“We were working our socks off but we needed to keep some money coming in,” she said. “We deliver frozen meals to a lot of elderly people in normal times so we were used to doing it and we had a lot of supporters who helped us because they knew it was to help the trainees.”
Another coronavirus fund grant of £4,000 from the community foundation also helped cover its costs.
Now the group is looking forward to April when it hope it can start getting back to normal. “I have a folder of wedding events that we were due to do that have jumped from this summer to summer 2022,” said Mrs Sloper.
“It will be lovely to see all the trainees back in the kitchen again. The last few months have been about their mental wellbeing and supporting them. A lot of them have learning disabilities and didn’t understand what was going on.
“We are so thankful for the community foundation’s support, we couldn’t do half of what we are doing without it.”
Dorset Community Foundation Director Grant Robson said: “Crumbs do an incredible job of giving skills and self-esteem to people who might otherwise be left behind. Its creative and innovative way of keeping going and supporting the trainees who rely so much on it has been inspiring and we are delighted that our partnership with BCP Council has helped them.”