Boosting confidence and well-being and connecting across the community
We caught up with Caroline, our Area Head for Hackney who told us what she gets up to and why it’s so rewarding.
Tell us about a day in the life of a Bags of Taste Area Head?
No two days are the same which I like, but the week has a pattern to it.
When there’s a course coming up, I’ll start by contacting referrers, many of whom I have built up a relationship with over the past couple of years. And I’m always adding to my network of valued referrers too! Some I’ve been lucky enough to meet – by visiting the Job Centre and talking to the Work Coaches about what we do, dropping in to doctor’s surgeries to leave leaflets with the receptionist, taking a sample bag to a Food Hub to show potential participants what we offer.
I’m so grateful to the many wonderful referrers who spread the word about what we do – making me feel welcome when we visit, encouraging their service users or clients to join the course. There are so many people doing fantastic work in the community and what we offer often complements what they do.
Through online outreach work – with local organisations, charities and community groups, social prescribers, community connectors and mental health services, schools and food banks – I’ve got to know many others and feel I’ve met them!
I also meet referrers – and potential students – at community events.
Recruiting and training volunteers is another key part of the job. I have a fantastic team of regular Hackney volunteer mentors who guide the students through the course with added local knowledge, and cyclists who help deliver the bags – especially big shout out to Nick who goes out rain or shine! I am so impressed by all their dedication and enthusiasm. They are at the very heart of what we do and their help is essential to us. We wouldn’t be able to run the courses without them. I only wish we’d been able to get together for some volunteer socials – maybe soon…
And then there are our fabulous students. Being Area Head means I follow the students’ journey from registration to graduation. Before joining the course I chat to every student. We’ll choose a day to start with the delivery of ingredients, and I’ll allocate them a mentor. I shop and prepare their ingredients bags, oversee the deliveries – taking less hilly routes for myself, and sometimes persuade family members to help!
Delivery day is exciting, and it’s great when students let us know their bag has arrived, the mentor starts providing the instructions for cooking and the students set off on their cooking adventure. I monitor their progress, supporting mentors where needed and celebrate students’ achievements. There’s nothing better than seeing the beautiful food photos.
Finally, when students graduate, receiving their feedback and posting their graduation packs is the best part of the job. We write certificates for graduates, and if they’ve cooked with a child, make out a certificate for them too.
What’s the best thing about your job?
Meeting and talking to people who want to join the course, connecting with the local community, and seeing and hearing how the participants get on – from their comments and photographs. It’s incredibly rewarding to see the impact of Bags of Taste and how the course boosts the participants’ confidence and well-being.
What’s your favourite Bags of Taste recipe?
In the past, I made channa masala to another recipe but now I make it the Bags of Taste way – so much simpler and just as delicious. Still can’t get enough of those spices!
Also, the pilaf is a revelation. The way the rice turns out so fragrant and fluffy without you even looking at it – it all goes on under the pan lid!
Any top food tips that you’d like to share?
Love your leftovers! And sometimes food tastes better the day after it’s cooked, so make more, and enjoy it even more second time round. But store it safely!