Kids Kitchen: From family cooking fun to helping the unemployed

Sue Wheat meets Kids Kitchen’s Alice Margaroli to find out about the new initiative helping Waltham Forest’s unemployed parents find support and retrain in the art of cooking…

When the Covid-19 pandemic took hold, everything changed for Kids Kitchen: a collective which has been provided family cooking classes in Waltham Forest venues (and other East London locations) for ten years.

Pre-pandemic, the team behind Kids Kitchen (three women from Waltham Forest, originally started by local environmental campaigner Rebecca Tully) held regular sessions cooking fun, simple and healthy meals with parents and children.

Often, this required joining up with social housing groups, children centres and local organisations – including Walthamstow Toy Library, Pimp Hall Nature Reserve in Chingford, the Leyton Children Centre the Hornbeam on Lea Bridge Road and OrganicLea. The sessions also provided training to parents who wanted to learn more about how to involve children in cooking.

But 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 in the borough, childhood obesity, and the environmental and financial impact of food systems – it was doing vital work in the community. And none of these issues would go away during the pandemic.

Kids Kitchen takes over Zoom

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.”

Ten months after their initial Zoom, Alice and the team have managed to reach over 100 families in the borough through online sessions, deliveries of ingredient bags and the odd face to face session, when restrictions allowed.

Still, there are plenty of challenges ahead, and Kids Kitchen have taken on a new cause to help local families – retraining newly-unemployed Waltham Forest residents.

An unprecedented number of people have lost their jobs or regular work during the pandemic. And thanks to funding from the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) and European Social Fund (ESF), Kids Kitchen have set up a project offering parents and non-parents alike new skills, a confidence boost, a sense of direction and employment support.

Sam Syer is one of the people who signed up for this project – taking part in the Cooking From Scratch With Kids course.

“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,” she tells the Echo.

“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.”

How to get involved with Kids Kitchen

The course has been set up to work for all cooking abilities and experience – and also uses pictures and visual aids to help overcome language and 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,” Sam adds. “And amazingly, it has allowed me to see a way to combine my two loves, cooking and yoga!”

Paul Clays first came across Kids Kitchen with his young 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 to help others along the way. Paul is now a volunteer with other organisations in Walthamstow, teaching others to cook and learn about nutrition. He 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.”

To learn more, go to Kids Kitchen’s official website, Instagram, Twitter or Facebook page

Interested in taking a course? Contact leader Alice at elondon@kidskitchen.org.uk or 07900 935100