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First newbie cooks ‘graduate’ from Westbank’s recently launched Community Cookery School

Westbank Community Health and Care is celebrating the first cohort of newbie cooks to have completed Foundation Courses in basic kitchen skills at the charity’s recently opened Community Cookery School.

The purpose-built teaching facility at Exminster, near Exeter, opened its doors to beginner cooks this autumn, offering free eight-week workshops to people of all ages who want to learn how to cook simple, nutritious, affordable meals.

A well-attended launch party allowed guests, including sponsors, to see the bespoke teaching kitchen in use. The event marked the completion of a year of hard work by the Westbank team to raise the necessary pot of funding to design and build a state-of-the-art workspace with eight learner workstations, including a height-adjustable one for people with disabilities.

Community Services Manager Nikki Bromley, who developed and delivers the cookery courses, said, “It’s been fantastic to welcome our first learners to the Community Cookery School at Westbank. For the last two months, we’ve been running two classes per week – on Wednesday afternoons and Thursday mornings – and the take-up has been wonderful. Some people have limited experience in the kitchen, others have none at all, so we start with the basics like food hygiene and knife skills. We show participants how to cook simple, wholesome meals and sauces that can be adapted to make plenty of dishes on a budget.”

She added, “It’s satisfying to teach people how to make the most of fresh produce to cook more sustainably, and every one of our learners has embraced this experience. They’ve all enjoyed learning how to cook and meeting new people.”

Full-time carer Paul, from Dawlish, has previously attended courses at Westbank with his son, who has autism. Paul said, “It’s a great opportunity to do something on my own, learn new skills and broaden both our horizons on the food front. I loved it. Learning how to make the most of produce from food banks, trying different vegetables and the way it’s been taught – it’s really opened up my skill set in the kitchen. It’s a phenomenal space with amazing facilities.”

Tina from Exminster was keen to give the course a go. She said, “The best bit for me has been learning new things. My kids have enjoyed everything I’ve cooked and look forward to me coming home with different things for them to try on Thursdays. I’ve discovered how to use a lot more vegetables and healthier options. I’d never tried Lentil Cottage Pie before and the whole family enjoyed it. I’ve now volunteered to help on future courses!”

Christopher, who lives alone in Exeter, joined a Wednesday afternoon group of older men. He said, “It’s been a great experience cooking here at Westbank and I’ve made new friends with other people on the course. The 8-week course is quite extensive and we’ve all learnt a lot. I would certainly come back again. This course has been mainly vegetarian food and I’ve put in my request to do a vegan course next year.”

Bob from Pathfinder Village, near Tedburn St Mary, had done a limited amount of cooking until joining the course. He said, “My wife won’t let me do much in the kitchen because she’s very careful about what she eats! I’ve learnt different ways of preparing food. I would never have thought of cooking a pizza from scratch and making dough, but now I know how to do that. It’s given me more confidence to cook things I like, and I’m looking forward to returning next year.” 

The next Foundation Courses will begin in January. Anyone can apply to join them and they are free of charge.