It is a typical winters day in February and Brakes Group is about to kick-start the companys first Lets Get Cooking team volunteering day for a primary school in Ashford, Kent. This is the first of a long term campaign partnership which is set to be one of Brakes Groups biggest CSER Community commitments to date. It is also likely to be one of the most rewarding for both Brakes Group employees and its local communities. HR Director of Organisational Development Alison Townson explains why.
In early 2010, a study discovered that almost two-thirds of school children struggle to identify the origins of everyday food products they consume. This lack of knowledge is a one of the reasons why childhood obesity has become a pressing issue in the UK with 35 per cent of children between the ages of two and 15 now either overweight or obese, which has doubled from a decade ago.2
To help tackle the problem of malnutrition and the lack of knowledge around healthy cooking, eating and the origin of fresh ingredients, Brakes Group is taking real action and giving its employees the chance to volunteer their time and skills for a national health and education programme called Lets
Get Cooking. This initiative will run in conjunction with our major customer Aramark as part of a Community Charter which is a key component of our overall Corporate Social and Environmental Responsibility (CSER) campaign.
The national Lets Get Cooking campaign is backed by £20 million from the Big Lottery Fund. Five thousand school-based cooking clubs in England are being set up to give children, young people, their parents and communities, the skills and confidence to prepare nutritious, healthy and tasty meals from scratch. 700,000 children have gone through this scheme already and have benefited from this community programme.
By volunteering for Lets Get Cooking, Brakes Group employees will develop their personal and professional skills and provide children within our local communities with inspiration and role models from the world of work.
Brakes Group believes it is important to support the local communities by enabling employees to take real practical action on health and education in areas where it is most needed. We also need to get children thinking about the fresh ingredients they are using and the importance of where they come from in order for them to adopt a healthier approach to eating in their everyday lives.
We have created fantastic guidelines and helpful toolkits for our employees to use when volunteering with the Lets Get Cooking programme.
Thanks to the successful pilot activity in Ashford, Kent, the programme is now currently being rolled out across our business.
Limited knowledge of fresh ingredients, particularly Britains home-grown produce, raises concerns about how the next generation of our consumers will incorporate seasonal produce into their everyday lives. Last November, two members of our food development team visited John Wesley Primary School near Brakes head office in Ashford, Kent to conduct an Apple Discovery Day for that very reason.
Autumn is a time when British apples are in abundance particularly varieties grown in Kent making learning about apples and how to cook with them both timely and relevant for the children.
The afternoon session was delivered to a group of 7 to 11 year-olds. The session was devised to be both interactive and informative, ranging from tasting a range of apple varieties, to making their own uncooked apple and sultana crumble which could then be taken home to put in the oven and eaten with the family. The children went away having learned some interesting facts about apples, including those varieties grown in Kent, and they were also given a recipe card and goody bag so they could share their apple knowledge with their families.
Pauline Wood from John Wesley Primary School says: All the children really enjoyed it and were proud to share what they had learnt from the Apple Discovery session during morning worship the next day. We look forward to doing further events with Brakes.
Giving up the day job for a day
As well as one-off activity sessions, Brakes Group employees will also take part in volunteering days as a team. These team challenges are designed to support the schools cooking club activity and promote their long term sustainability.
These days feature a range of activities including a game of Root, Shoot or Leaf to educate children on food origin, as well as hot and cold cooking classes where volunteers will work with children and make dishes such as vegetable curry and fruit kebabs from scratch. At the end of the day parents are invited to come and see what the children have made and taste the food prepared.
The first of these days took place back in February 2010 when a team of Brakes Group employees went to Phoenix Community Primary School in Ashford. They gave up their day jobs for the day and spent it with pupils from Year One to Year Six delivering vital healthy eating messages.
Vicki Duggan from Brakes ran the volunteer day and says: It has been an enjoyable and rewarding day. All the children and volunteers embraced the activities and the parents were very impressed with the meals the children had created. Again, the children went home with recipe cards and goody bags and the confidence to use these skills at home.
We are looking forward to continually supporting Phoenix Community Primary School to form a mutually rewarding and sustainable partnership.
Thanks to the success of the two activities and the great feedback, Brakes Group hopes that all our sites across the UK will sign up to the Community Charter and get involved with the Lets Get Cooking programme to work with appropriate schools in their area and give the pupils knowledge, experience and practical skills to enable them to cook food for themselves, friends and families.