Man with a Pan – How it all began

Man with a Pan cookery courses for older men – a practical way for men to learn how to cook and be healthy while making friends, being active and building community. We piloted the course in Surrey with the Camberley Alzheimer’s Cafe in 2017 and it’s now become an award winning project that we run in multiple locations.

It would never of happened if it was not for one woman. Maureen Hume, a dynamic and seemingly indefatigable community champion from Camberley in Surrey helped set up an Alzheimer Café for her local community in order to raise awareness and offer support around Alzheimer’s and dementia issues.

In the course of running monthly cafe’s, Maureen identified a need for improving the diets of some of the men who attended the cafe, many of whom are the primary carer of a family member. Maureen found out about my work with the local children centre and food bank, who I’d been working with since 2014.

She told me her vision and asked me if I would consider designing a Man with a Pan course. I jumped at the chance. When I first set up my project in 2001, the primary focus was to work with older people. This felt like a fantastic opportunity to reconnect with the reason I started Community Chef in the first place.

Maureen and I met and put a plan together. We submitted a  funding bid to the National Lottery and were able to secure a year’s worth of funding for the programme. We arranged to hire the commercial kitchen at St Mary’s church who were delighted to host such a positive community activity. I designed the course, tested the recipes and we started recruiting.

Over the five week course the men learnt basic cookery skills and a portfolio of dishes. We’d cook in bulk, eat together and send the participants home with another meal or two for later in the week. In addition to the cooking and eating, there is lots of light banter, putting the world to rights and heartfelt sharing, trust and support. The men developed their skills and confidence to be able to cook and eat good food. They made friends and felt supported.

We ran a 3 year programme of courses in Camberley working with an amazing community of men. Our youngest student was 17 and our oldest 98.

One of the best outcomes from this project was being able to offer ongoing activities for our students and also extend the benefits of this work to the wider community. We achieved this by cooking for the monthly Alzheimer’s Cafe and the local homeless shelter. Our graduates became volunteer cooks, helping prepare a sit down meal for 70 plus people. We’d prepare an extra 30 portions which we delivered to a local homeless shelter. By volunteering, our students improved their cookery skills, had the rewarding experience of supporting others and deepening connections with others in the community.

We have now (2022) run over 50 courses in 4 counties, and have more are in the pipeline. The feedback from alumni has been overwhelmingly positive. All of the participants felt that they had considerably improved their cookery skills and felt more active and socially nourished. They have all asked for a longer course and regular reunions.

Sean Murphy who attend the first MWP course said:

I’m a carer and suffer from mental health issues. I often find it difficult to leave the house. Todays cookery session has been the best day I’ve had in the two years I’ve been off work suffering with depression.”

If you would like to find out more about the Man with a Pan programme, please contact me.

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