A ‘final push’ is being mounted for Westbank's venture which aims to offer free workshops on how to prepare nutritious meals from scratch with simple, affordable ingredients.

The project will be available for people of all ages and comes at a time when cooking healthily and cost-effectively has never been more important.

The idea of creating a bespoke teaching kitchen at Westbank Community Health and Care began simmering away a year ago following the Covid lockdowns. During the pandemic, Westbank distributed food boxes with fresh produce. Many of the recipients said they lacked the knowledge, skills, and confidence to make meals with the vegetables and store cupboard ingredients they had been gifted.

Since then, the sharp rise in the cost of living has forced many households, particularly those on low incomes, to stretch their grocery budget even further. Bulk cooking, preparing meals from scratch, and minimising waste are simple ways to feed a family more affordably. 

After securing a pot of fundraising for the remodelling, Westbank began transforming an empty café at its Exminster HQ into a community teaching kitchen, purpose-built to host cookery workshops for people of all ages. The team, are now seeking support from local businesses. They had an initial focus on young parents, low-income families and older, isolated people. The Community Cookery School at Westbank is almost ready to launch.

Chris Bloye, Westbank’s Business Development Manager, has a background in catering, hospitality and the fitness industry, and has overseen the remodelling to create a bespoke teaching kitchen with one height-adjustable workstation. Chris says "Within the space of a year, we have turned the seed of an idea into reality and we’re preparing to welcome our first learners.

The kitchen looks great and is almost ready to go. We’re now looking for businesses to provide further sponsorship, supplement our supplies of ingredients or help us with all the necessary kit and equipment. We would also love to hear from people willing to give their time to support our staff in delivering the workshops."

CEO Sarah Hicks adds ‘Westbank has been improving the lives of people in Devon since 1986, working with an established network of over 50 partners with whom we deliver health and social care contracts and other wellbeing initiatives. This is an opportunity for us to respond to people’s needs and circumstances in a different way by helping them make the most of their food, encouraging them to get creative in the kitchen and share their new skills with others. Ultimately, this will bring long-term health and well-being benefits for all involved."

The project has already received generous support totalling almost £74,500 from the Edward Gostling Foundation, Morrisons Foundation, Garfield Weston Foundation, National Lottery Community Fund/Awards for All England, Hubbub/Starbucks, 29th May 1961 Charitable Trust, Veronica Awdry Charitable Trust, The Misses Barrie Charitable Trust and Waitrose.

Nikki Bromley, Westbank’s Community Services Manager is responsible for course content and delivery. She said "We welcome gifts and donations of any size and hope people will really get behind this initiative. Our 8-week courses will start by teaching basic food hygiene and showing how to prepare wholesome sauces that can be adapted to create a variety of meals on a tight budget.

By reducing people’s reliance on expensive produce like meat and enabling them to make more nutritious versions of their favourite takeaway meals at a fraction of the cost, we aim to make a real difference."

A series of ‘taster sessions’ are being held over the summer for the charity’s staff and volunteers. The Community Cookery School at Westbank will be launched officially in the autumn.