Building Work Skills in East London

I didn’t really know what to expect, but halfway through the first session I was inspired! Despite the pandemic, I’m connecting more, making new friends and slowly easing myself into a new venture working locally and being part of my community again.”

The fantastic Sue Wheat who often collaborates with us wrote this article for the Waltham Forest Echo to talk about our training program and the work we are doing in Waltham Forest. Check it out, and if you are interested in training with us click on the Course tab above.

Sue Wheat meets Alice Margaroli, who leads the Kids Kitchen Waltham Forest team. Covid-19 may have stopped the classes happening in borough venues, but they’ve still been able to help many parents and children cook their way through the pandemic through the power of Zoom.

When the Covid pandemic started, everything changed for Kids Kitchen, which had been providing family cooking classes in venues around Waltham Forest for 10 years, including the Toy Library in Walthamstow, Pimp Hall Nature Reserve and Organiclea in Chingford, and the Leyton Children Center.

The Kids Kitchen team – three women from Waltham Forest, originally set up by Rebecca Tully and Eva Freeman – held fun sessions cooking simple, healthy meals with parents and children, often joining up with social housing groups, children centres and local organisations such as the Hornbeam and OrganicLea. It also provided training to parents who wanted to learn more about how to involve children in cooking.

In early March when the Kids Kitchen family cooking session at the beautiful Pimp Hall Nature Reserve in Chingford was cancelled, Alice Margaroli, project coordinator for Kids Kitchen explains she felt “worried and deflated”.

Using interactive family cooking, online resources and training, Kids Kitchen had always focused on tackling social isolation of parents with young children, childhood obesity, and the environmental and financial impact of food systems – it was doing vital work in the community and was a lifeline for many parents. The Kids Kitchen team knew none of these issues would go away during the pandemic and how important it was to continue through it.

Like so many other projects around the borough, the team got together on Zoom, re-thought their project, and reinvented it.

“We decided to take the sessions online and it felt like hope,” Alice says, “like something I could do that would make me and other people smile.”

10 months later, Kids Kitchen has managed to reach well over 100 families in the borough through online sessions, face to face sessions when possible and ingredients bags delivered to directly to families across the borough.

With an unprecedented number of people having lost their jobs during the pandemic, Kids Kitchen, thanks to funding from the ESFA (Education and Skills Funding Agency) and ESF (European Social Fund), have set up a project offering parents new skills, a confidence boost, a sense of direction and the support of others. They not only have been able to offer their training to unemployed people in the borough but also employment support and advice.

Sam Syer is one of the people who signed up for this project. “I was made unemployed from my job as a yoga teacher when Covid started, and I was looking for a future doing something different but based on my experience”.

Sam took part in the Cooking from Scratch with Kids course. “I didn’t really know what to expect, but halfway through the first session I was inspired! Despite the pandemic, I’m connecting more, making new friends and slowly easing myself into a new venture working locally and being part of my community again.”

The course has been set up to work for all levels, whether they have little or lots of cooking experience, and uses pictures and other visual aids to help overcome any language or communication barriers.

“This course seems simple but it brings together ideas on child development, nutrition, health, and gives you the opportunity to enjoy running a shared activity that looks at the overall well-being of the family,” she says. “And amazingly, it has allowed me to see a way to combine my two loves, cooking and yoga!” she says.

Paul Clays first came across Kids Kitchen with his daughter. He explains: “After being made redundant in July I went to a Kids Kitchen session at Walthamstow Toy Library before total lockdown. I found that Kids Kitchen were offering a course to give me the skills I needed to convert my home cooking skills into a new career.”

Alice’s enthusiasm and passion helped Paul on the path to a future career in food as well as helping him help others along the way. Paul now also volunteers with other organisations in Walthamstow teaching others to cook and learn about nutrition and hopes to get a job to do with food which would still allow him to spend quality time with his family.

“Our trainees are fantastic people who want to be a positive influence in their community while making great work for themselves,” says Alice. “We do our best to help them figure out just how. And when the pandemic ends – we can’t wait to get back to meeting people face-to-face again. Zoom’s been a Godsend, but you can’t beat real life family fun.”