I’m not at all sure about ‘cold jelly and custard’ myself.
As we move towards Christmas, it’s a good time to share the Time to Shine learning about the role shared meals can play in reducing social isolation and loneliness. Although it is something a lot of older people’s organisations do all the time. For a number of other groups across the city it’s a literally ‘hot’ topic at the moment as they think about setting up and running Warm Spaces for the first time, and it could help them to know what has worked elsewhere, and specifically how to use those meetings to achieve warm friendships as well as warm feet and full bellies.
The most easily replicable projects, those that worked well to bring people together as a group and really helped them to make new friends, were the Shared Tables initiatives which started in Crossgates, and the Supper Club ran by New Wortley Community Association. Interestingly, these both included a strong strand of co-production, which meant they could run with a lower level of staff input and people really engaged with each other.
Both projects also grew out of an articulated desire for activity outside the normal Monday-Friday 9-5 provision. In New Wortley there was a need for evening activity for people who were socially isolated or lonely who were missing social activity in the pub – no longer affordable for many. The Supper Club involved people in cooking and engaged them as volunteers whenever possible. They asked people for suggestions for the evening and people chose activities and helped to set up or run sessions. People enjoyed cooking together and valuable skills were shared.
The idea for Shared Tables grew out of a request for weekend activity from Crossgates Good Neighbours members. Many members felt particularly lonely at weekends as people with family tended to be busy. Shared Tables was very popular, with members stepping up to help run things and good friendships grew. They created a toolkit as part of the project. Shared Tables has been replicated across Leeds. The Centre for Ageing Better produced a report which was circulated nationally. So let’s hope there are older people going out for lunch together across the UK.
People have got back together after Covid, and possibly the very locally driven focus where local people decide where and what they want to eat and set their own budgets will mean they keep going despite the cost of living crisis and the struggles of pubs, cafes and restaurants.
- Choices (Feel Good Factor) ran ‘cook and eat’ sessions in the communal areas of a sheltered housing scheme.
- Shared Tables (Cross Gates and District Good Neighbours Scheme) enabled older people who could travel independently to eat meals together in local restaurants at weekends. You can find an evaluation of the project here
- Cook and Eat (Zest Health for Life) ran 6-week cookery courses in a state-of-the-art teaching kitchen.
- Raat di Roti (Touchstone Sikh Elders Service) created opportunities for Punjabi-speaking older people and volunteers to share an evening meal at home.
- Lychee Red Chinese Seniors (Health for All Leeds) welcomed members of the Chinese community from across Leeds to share traditional meals and cultural activities.
- Young at Arts (Yorkshire Dance) worked with older people, a food-share project and a professional poet to create a ‘Food for Thought’ arts event.
- Supper Club (New Wortley Community Centre) provided a home-cooked two course evening meal and access to a range of facilities, activities and information.
- Don’t Call Me Old (Armley Helping Hands) identified volunteers aged 50+ who were keen to set up and run a local foodbank.
Where we have a learning report on a specific project you’ll see a link above, and you will find a summary of our learning in our Food for thought report.
Good Practice Mentor