The aim of What’s Cooking was to provide socially isolated older people in rural areas with access to opportunities to eat with others, while building their cooking skills and confidence and helping them to form new social connections and friendships.
What’s Cooking was commissioned as part of Brightlife’s ‘Bright Ideas’ strand and was delivered by Rural Community Services (RCS), a registered charity working with older people in rural localities across Cheshire West and Chester.
What’s Cooking was initially awarded £8,425 for one year, and was subsequently awarded a further £10,323 to extend the project for another year.
The design of a community project must allow for flexibility as a result of co-design. When working in multiple communities, the model must be adapted to fit the available facilities and participant needs.
Having an ‘open access’ policy, without the need for a formal referral or qualifying criteria, creates a group with mixed levels of confidence and social connectedness. This can create a more vibrant group, where those with higher levels of confidence and connectedness are able to welcome and support others.
Creating an open, welcoming and inclusive group dynamic is important when seeking to engage socially isolated/lonely people.
Reduced mobility and fewer transport options can contribute to social isolation and loneliness in rural areas.
When marketing a scheme designed to bring people together, careful consideration needs to be given to the messages being conveyed.
Background and context
Eating is a social activity. However, for many older people, social isolation, combined with limited transport options (especially for those living in rural areas), can lead to a lack of opportunities to eat with others.
Older people who are socially isolated can lose interest and confidence in cooking for themselves, particularly if they live alone. This puts them at a greater risk of malnutrition.
What’s Cooking aimed to establish community clubs in rural areas, led by volunteers with support from project staff, with a focus on cooking and eating well.
It was envisaged that the participants would cook and eat food together, discuss growing and sourcing good quality food, and share recipes from the present and past. It was hoped that as well as rekindling participants’ interest in food, the clubs would enable new social connections and friendships to be formed.
Impact and legacy
While the data does show improvements for some participants in terms of a reduction in loneliness and isolation, higher levels of social contact and improved health and wellbeing, reluctance of many participants to complete the evaluation questionnaire means that the conclusions that can be drawn from this data are very limited.
However, there was a noticeable growth in confidence among participants in general, particularly in their willingness to participate in group discussions and project co-design, and to attend other community activities. New friendships also developed between members, with some meeting socially outside of the group sessions.
Delivering the What’s Cooking project has resulted in RCS working with a broader age demographic, particularly in the 50-70 years range, and a wider range of partners.
All three What’s Cooking groups will continue to be supported by RCS, with further funding already secured for at least two of the groups.